Religious Holidays

Christian Holidays

Easter, the Sunday of the Resurrection, Pascha, or Resurrection Day, is the most important religious feast of the Christian year. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe occurred on the third day of his death by crucifixion.

Today many families celebrate Easter in a completely secular way, as a non-religious holiday.

Christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Traditions include the display of Nativity scenes, Holly and Christmas trees, the exchange of gifts and cards, and the arrival of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill, compassion and peace

The date as a birthdate for Jesus is merely traditional, and is not widely considered to be his actual date of birth.

Lent is the forty-day liturgical season of fasting and prayer before the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the desert, where, according to the Bible, he endured temptation by Satan.

Good Friday
Good Friday, which is also sometimes called Holy Friday, Black Friday or Great Friday, is a holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary hill.

Budhist Holidays

Vesak (also known as Sinhalese or Visakah Puja) is the most important holiday in the Buddhist calendar. Vesak celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. The name Vesak is derived from the name of the Buddhist month during which Vesak is celebrated.

Asalha Puja
Asalha Puja (known as Asanha Puja in Thailand or “Dhamma Day”) commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon in the Deer Park in Benares, India, and the founding of the Buddhist sangha. The day is observed by donating offerings to temples and listening to sermons.

Bodhi Day
Traditionally, Bodhi Day (also known as Bodhi in Sanskrit or Pali) commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gotama, experienced enlightenment and found the roots of suffering after sitting and meditating under a pipul tree. When Siddhartha was enlighted, he became a Buddha or “Awakened One”, finally found the answers he sought and experienced Nirvana.

Hindu Holidays

Saraswati Puja
The Saraswati Puja festival (also known as Basant Panchami or Vasant Panchami) is a festival devoted to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and art.

Traditionally during this festival children are taught to write their first words. The color yellow has a special meaning during this festival, and people usually wear yellow garments during the holiday, and yellow sweets are consumed within the families.

Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivratri (also called Shivaratri), which means Night of Shiva, is an Hindu festival celebrated every year. The most significant practices on this day are offerings of Bheel (Bilva) leaves to the Lord Shiva, fasting and all night long vigil.

Holi (also known as Phagwah or Bhojpuri) is a popular, Hindu spring festival, observed in North India and Nepal, also called the Festival of Colours. In West Bengal, it is known as Dolyatra (Doljatra) or Boshonto Utshob (“spring festival”).

On the first day, bonfires are lit at night to signify burning Holika. On the second day, known as Dhulandi, people spend the day throwing coloured powder and water at each other. Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a Panchami (fifth day of the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colours.

Ram Navami
Ram Navami is the celebration of the birthday of Rama, a divine figure in Hinduism. On this festival people perform Kalyanotsavam (marriage celebration) with small images of Rama and Sita in their houses, and at the end of the day the deity is taken to a procession on the streets.

Rath Yatra
Ram Navami is the celebration of the birthday of Rama, a divine figure in Hinduism. On this festival people perform Kalyanotsavam (marriage celebration) with small images of Rama and Sita in their houses, and at the end of the day the deity is taken to a procession on the streets.

Raksha Bandhan
The name Raksha Bandhan means “the bond of protection”. The festival (also known as Rakhi) celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. During the festival, sisters tie a rakhi (a holy thread) around their brothers? wrists. The brother in return vows to look after his sister, and offers her a gift.

Krishna Janmasshtami
The festivel of Krishna Janmaashtami (also known as Krishnaashtami, Gokulaashtami, Srikrishna Jayanti, Sree Jayanthi or Janmaashtami) celebrates the birth of Krishna, the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.

The festival starts by fasting on the previous day (Saptami), followed by a night-long celebration of the birth of Krishna, and his removal by his father to a foster-home for safe-keeping. At midnight, the idol of the infant Krishna is bathed and placed in a cradle. In the early morning, ladies draw little children feet patterns outside the house with rice-flour paste to symbolize the entry of the infant Krishna into his foster-home.

After ablutions, morning prayers and worship, the devout break their fast with Prasadam, food that has first been offered to the lord.

Ganesh Chaturthi
The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi marks a day on which Lord Ganesha makes his presence on earth for all his devotees. The festival lasts for up to 10 days (depending on the place where it is celebrated), ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.

During the festivals, a household worships an idol of Shri Ganesha, and there are public celebrations of the festival.

Navaratri (also spelled Navratri or Navaratra) is a festival of dance and worship. The word Navaratri is made of two words: Nava (nine) and Ratri (nights).

Navaratri is divided into three-day sets, each devoted to a different aspect of the supreme goddess. The first three days are devoted to Durga (to destroy all our vices, impurities, and defects). The next three day set is devoted to Lakshmi (the giver of spiritual and material wealth), and the last set is devoted to Saraswati (the goddess of wisdom).

Blessing from all three aspects of the divine mother is the only way to have all-round success in life.

The festival of Dussehra (also spelled Dasara or Vijaya Dasami) marks the triumph of Lord Rama over Demon king Ravana. On this day, Rama killed Ravana. Dussehra marks the end of the nine days of Navratri, and is celebrated on the tenth day.

On this festival, people decorate the house and shop entrances with flower studded strings called ?Torans? (Floral Gateways). At night effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakaran and Meghanad are stuffed with firecrackers and set alight.

The festival of Diwali (also spelled Deepavali) is the Festival of Lights, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil. The lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope.

Diwali is one of the most popular holidays in Hindu countries. It is celebrated for five days and nights during the Hindu month of Ashwayuja.

Jewish Holidays

Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd days of the Hebrew month “Tishrei”, and in fact begins on the 29th (and last) night of the month Elul. This is the only Jewish holiday which lasts for 2 entire days (considered as one very long day), and the reason for this is to emphasize its importance.

Yom Kippur
Starting on the first day of the month “Elul” (“Rosh Chodesh Elul”), many Jews get up every night and go to the synagogue, a custom which is known as Selichot. There they pray for forgiveness until morning comes, and then go to work? The custom becomes more and more intense, and reaches a peak on the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as the “Yamim Nora’im” (“The Days of Awe”). During these days Jews ask God and each other for forgiveness, and greet each other with the blessing “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life”.

Sukkot is the third of the three “Pilgrim Festivals” in the Jewish tradition (the other two are Passover and Shavuot). While Passover is celebrated in memory of the exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, Sukkot is a celebration in memory of the huts in which Moses and the Israelites lived in the desert for 40 years.

Chanukah (also spelled Chanuka, Hanuka, Hanukka, Hannukah or Hanukkah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights, the Feast of Consecration, or the Feast of the Maccabees. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar.

Chanukah Traditions

Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.

Spinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side.

Eating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jelly-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.

The story of Chanukah begins in 167 B.C. while Jerusalem was ruled by the Greek Empire. King Antiochus the 4th forced the Jews to reject their religion and to worship the Greek gods instead. As a result, the Jews began a revolt, Judas Macabeus being the leader. Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, after 3 years of fighting against the Greeks (Chanukah in Hebrew means “dedication”).

Purim is often considered the most cheerful and colorful of all the Jewish holidays. Its story takes place in Shushan, the capital city of the Persian Empire, in the 3rd year of King Ahashverosh’s reign. The holiday celebrates the Jews’ victory over oppression, which is recounted in great detail in the “Esther Megillah” (The Book of Esther).

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.

Passover is one of the most important Jewish religious festivals. Its celebration begins on the evening of the 14th of Nisan (first month of the religious calendar, corresponding to March?April) and lasts seven days in Israel, eight days in the Diaspora (although Reform Jews observe a seven-day period).

Shavuot is one of the three major Jewish Biblical pilgrimage festivals, on which Jews used to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to bring their first fruits. The festival takes place exactly 50 days after the festival of Passover. Shavuot is also sometimes referred to as the Feast of Weeks. Greek speaking Jews gave the festival the name Pentecost, since it occurs fifty days after Passover.

Muslim Holidays

Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year, is the first day of the month of Muharram. It marks the Hijra (or Hegira) in 622 CE when theProphet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and set up the first Islamic state.

The Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra, which is why Muslim dates have the suffix A.H. (After Hijra).

It’s a low-key event in the Muslim world, celebrated less than the two major festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.

Mawlid al-Nabi
Mawlid al-Nabi (also spelled Mawlid an-Nabi or Milad al-Nabi) is the celebration of the birthday of Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam.

Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, all observant Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan between dawn (fajr), and sunset (maghrib).

During Ramadan evenings, Muslims eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and community ties.

Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr (also spelled Eid ul-Fitr) marks the end of the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The word Fitr means “to break”, which symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period and of all evil habits.

Eid al-Adha
(Festival of Sacrifice) One of the two main Islamic festivals (the other is ‘Id al-Fitr), this festival falls on the 10th day of the lunar month of Zul-Hijja and is the concluding act of pilgrimage to Makkah. In commemoration of Abraham’s faith, sheep, goats and camels are offered to God, and the meat is distributed to the poor and needy. ‘Id al-Adha is observed whether or not one is on pilgrimage.

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