Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans observe ancient grain harvest festival

Wheat in field with blue sky in background

Lammas has historically been a festival of the wheat harvest, accompanied by athletic games, feasting and blessings. Photo by Chaitanya K., courtesy of Pixabay

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1: As the heat of July breaks into August—Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark the feast of Lammas.

An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day;” historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to church for a blessing. For many, Lammas was a time of gratitude, as the hard work of planting gave way to the bounty of the harvest.

Interested in the bread traditions of world faiths? Check out Lynne Meredith Golodner’s “The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads,” which includes recipes, photos and engaging stories of the place where bread and faith intersect.

LUGHNASADH: A PAGAN CUSTOM

Loaf of wheat bread cut into slices on wooden cutting board

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the Neopagan and Wiccan Wheels of the Year, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and the first of three harvest festivals (the other harvest festivals being Mabon, or autumn equinox, and Samhain). In Wicca and ancient pagan tradition, Lughnassadh is the time for the funeral games of Lugh, the sun god. In a manner similar to ancient Olympic games, the games of Lugh were in honor of his foster mother and included athletic games, feasting, matchmaking and ritual visits to holy wells. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Some mark this festival on July 31, though it is most widely observed on the first day of August.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

NEWS: LAMMAS AND LUGHNASSADH TODAY

Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. (Wikipedia has details on Lammas and Lughnassadh.) Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair. (In Eastbourne, England, a Lammas festival took place July 25-26.) For centuries, Lammas has been a time to gather wild berries—bilberries, in particular, but also blackberries and blueberries–for eating, baking and making wine.

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Categories: ChristianWiccan / Pagan

Dormition Fast: Orthodox Christians fast for Mary, Mother of God (Theotokos)

Gold background foreground painting of icon of Virgin Mary holding child, halos around their heads

Painting of an Orthodox Christian icon of the Virgin Mary, or Theotokos. Photo by Duckmarx, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1: As Orthodox Christians look to the Feast of the Dormition, millions enter a fasting period stricter even than that before the Nativity (Christmas).

For Eastern Christians, including many families in the U.S., the two weeks prior to the feast recalling the “falling asleep” of the Virgin Mary are focused on prayers to the Theotokos (“God-bearer”). In this fast, the observant abstain from red meat, poultry, dairy products, fish, oil and wine. The Dormition Fast continues until the Feast of the Dormition, on August 15. (Note: Certain restrictions of the fast are lifted on the Feast of the Transfiguration, on August 6).

The first day of the Dormition Fast hosts the Procession of the Cross, during which an outdoor procession complements the Lesser Blessing of Water.

END OF MARY’S LIFE

The first four centuries of Christianity lack notable reference to the end of Mary’s life, and in most manuscripts, it wasn’t until the 5th century that Dormition traditions begin getting mention. (Wikipedia has details.) Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death and that her soul was received by Christ upon her death; that her body alone was taken into heaven by Christ on the third day after her death. While some Roman Catholics agree with this belief—as was confirmed by Pope John Paul II, during a General Audience in June 1997—others hold that the Virgin Mary did not experience death and was, instead, assumed into heaven in bodily form.

Did you know? Jerusalem houses Mary’s Tomb and the Basilica of the Dormition.

Christian tradition holds that after Mary spent years serving and raising awareness of the new Church, she received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel, who told her that her death would occur in three days. It is believed that the apostles—many who were not in Jerusalem at the time, but preaching abroad—were miraculously transported to Mary near the time of her death. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) Three days after her death, her body was gone and a sweet fragrance was emitted from the tomb. In many regions, it is still custom to bless fragrant herbs on the Feast of the Dormition.

IN THE NEWS: A MIRACLE?

Claims for miracles associated with Mary surface in news publications frequently, and recently, churchgoers in Sydney, Australia have been posting videos and talking about a painted portrait whose lips moved with the congregation’s recited prayers. (ChristianToday has the story.) The painting, depicting the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in her arms, is reported as having moved under various lighting; the Catholic Church has reaffirmed that only the bishop of a diocese can officially declare it a miracle.

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Categories: Christian

Tisha B’Av: As Three Weeks ends Jews mourn Temples, other tragedies

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, sunny day, pilgrims at wall

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JULY 25: On the annual Jewish milestone of Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), men and women traditionally fast for 25 hours, refrain from bathing, set aside pleasurable activities and focus on communal lament.

But the observance gets mixed response as modern-day Jewish families balance the demands of contemporary life with this call from the past.

Author Debra Darvick wrote in an earlier column: “Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that falls during the summer, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. … I have attended services sporadically, more out of a sense of responsibility than any feeling of true mourning. How do I mourn something absent from Jewish experience for nearly two millennia?” In Debra’s column, she does find a way to reconnect, but this clearly is a struggle around the worldwide Jewish community.

In Israel, restaurants and places of entertainment are closed by law on Tisha B’Av, but recent polls have revealed that many Jews question ancient mourning after the modern re-establishment of the Jewish state in the Holy Land. In a poll, just 22 percent of Israeli Jews reported fasting on Tisha B’Av; 18 percent answered that if recreational spots were open on Tisha B’Av, they would go out on the eve of the fast day.

A CASCADE OF MEMORIES

Historically, the First Temple was destroyed on 9 Av 586 BCE; the Second, on 9 Av 70 CE. (Some debate exists on the year of the destruction of the Second Temple, though most experts agree on 70 CE. Wikipedia has details). The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; the Second Temple, by the Romans.

Also on 9 Av, the Romans quashed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing more than 500,000 Jewish civilians; Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE; Germany entered World War I, the aftermath of which led to the Holocaust; and SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”

LEARN MORE

Take a Tisha B’Av quiz, read the poems of the Kinot and even find a recipe fit for the breaking of fast, at My Jewish Learning.

Find related stories of mourning and grief at Aish.com.

Learn the hope in this tragic day, as well as the Order of the Day, at Chabad.org.

A Webcast by the Orthodox Union, transmitted annually on Tisha B’Av, can be accessed for 2015 here.

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Categories: Jewish

Pioneer Day: Mormons celebrate Brigham Young and Salt Lake City

Hundreds of members of Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform in Mormon Temple

Broadway’s former “Cinderella” star performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for this year’s Pioneer Day concerts. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JULY 24: Across the state of Utah and in Mormon communities worldwide, Pioneer Day marks the entry of Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers into Salt Lake Valley. Parades, fireworks, rodeos, carnivals and more accompany festivals in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii and Canada. On this date in 1847, Brigham Young and his followers ended a thousand-mile search for a permanent settlement and an escape from religious persecution. (Wikipedia has details.) Many voyagers didn’t survive the difficult journey, and on Pioneer Day, Utahns pay homage to all pioneers—Mormon or not. Across Utah, many governmental offices and places of business are closed for the state holiday.

Did you know? Some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reenact the entrance of pioneers into Salt Lake Valley, by handcart, each Pioneer Day. Annually, Pioneer Days draws approximately 250,000 people.

This year, activities for Pioneer Day in Salt Lake City began a week before July 24, brimming with live music, pioneer heritage activities, pancake breakfasts and more. (Read more in the Salt Lake Tribune.) For Ogden Pioneer Days, Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke during the annual devotional, referencing the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke of the need for reconciliation, forgiveness and a culture of community. (Deseret News has the story.) In contrast to Mormon-centered activities, some bars and restaurants are gearing up for “Pie ‘n’ Beer Day,” a homophonic allusion to Pioneer Day that is based in Utah. Non-Mormons who reported feeling out of place during the Pioneer Day activities say that they now have a place to go on July 24. (New York Times reported.)

NEWS: TEMPLE OPEN FOR TOURS, A NEW ELDER & CINDERELLA SINGING

Following three years of construction on a 34,000-square-foot building, Mormonism’s newest temple, will be open for tours to non-Mormons in Indiana through August 8. During the past decade, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has only opened three or four temples worldwide each year, reaching a total of 147. Despite reports that the religion’s numbers are declining, officials expect that the temple in Indiana will host 75,000 visitors before closing its doors to non-Mormons, at which time it will serve approximately 30,000 Mormons in the state. (Read more from USA Today, Fox News and Indianapolis Monthly.)

With the death of 90-year old Boyd Packer, it has been reported that Russell Nelson will take over the position of president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a statement, the Church said that the apostles have “heavy administrative responsibilities as they oversee the orderly progress and development of the global church.”

Broadway star Laura Osnes, best known for her role as “Cinderella,” joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra for its Pioneer Day concert July 17 and 18. (Watch a video of the performance here.) Prior to the performances, Osnes—nominated for a Tony Award and recipient of several other awards—described her excitement in performing with such a renowned and enormous group. (Read more here.)

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Categories: Mormon

Haile Selassie: Celebrating Bob Marley’s 70th on a Rastafari birthday

Colored headshot of Bob Marley laughing

Bob Marley brought international attention to the Rastafari movement. Photo by Jason H. Smith, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, JULY 23: During what would have been the year of Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, the world celebrates the legend of a Reggae artist—and, for the Rastafari, the man who helped place their religion on the international stage. Today, the Rastafari acclaim the birthday of their messiah, Emperor Haile Selassie—a man referenced in lyrics of Marley’s songs. In Rastafari communities worldwide, Selassie’s birthday is met with Nyabingi drumming sessions, chanting and dancing. Born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892, Selassie—named Tafari Makonnen at birth—was the son of a governor who would become the final emperor of Ethiopia.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Looking for more Marley and other artists’ peacemaking music? Check out modern-day interfaith peacemaker Dan Buttry’s column—complete with links to videos.

Rastafari point to several sources as proof of Selassie’s destiny: astrological occurrences at the time of Selassie’s birth, a lineage traceable to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the prophesies of Marcus Garvey and biblical passages relating to Ethiopia and Zion. The constellation of Leo, which represents the house of Judah, was in full effect during the birth of Selassie on July 23, 1892. Marcus Garvey had been preaching of a messiah who would lead the African people to freedom. Biblical text relays that “he will be called … conquering lion of the tribe of Judah.” (For a Rasta view, click here.) When news of Selassie’s assumption of the Ethiopian throne reached Jamaica in 1930, the Rastafari movement was born.

Are Rastas Christian? Many Rastas believe in Jesus and embrace the Bible. What sets Rastas apart from other Christians is their belief that Haile Selassie was (is) a messiah. During his lifetime, Haile Selassie remained an Ethiopian Christian.

NEWS: OBAMA VISITS MARLEY MUSEUM, FAMILY CONTINUES LEGEND

President Barack Obama visited The Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, last April, and the museum has been receiving international media attention throughout the year of Marley’s 70th birth anniversary. Beyond Reggae, Marley wrote songs about war, revolution, protest, human rights and justice. Marley’s greatest hits collection, Legend, has been certified platinum 15 times, and the BBC named “One Love” the Song of the Millennium. This year, Billboard reviewed both the continued marketing of Marley’s image (he ranked No. 5 on Forbes’ 2014 Top Earning Dead Celebrity list) and the 10 protest songs that best exemplify his fight for social justice.

Interested in more? View a modern Rastafari celebration for Haile Selassie’s birthday here, and Time’s photos of Selassie’s 1966 visit to Jamaica here. Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife, converted to the Rasta faith after seeing Haile Selassie on his trip to Jamaica, claiming to have seen a stigmata print on his palm as he waved to the crowd. Rita influenced Bob in his conversion to Rastafari.

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Categories: Rastafari

Disneyland: Celebrating 60 years since Walt’s theme park Grand Opening

“To all who come to this happy place, welcome. … Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
Walt Disney

Mickey, Donald, Goofy and other Disney characters stand in line facing crowd at Disneyland, in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle

Mickey and friends in Disneyland, 2009. Photo by Loren Javier, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JULY 17: Sixty years ago today, the opening of Walt Disney’s famed amusement park seemed to confirm the nightmare stockholders had anticipated. After an astronomical investment, Walt opened his “Disneyland”—then was met with more than double the number of guests given preview tickets (many passes were counterfeit). On the morning of July 17, 1955, disaster seemed imminent.

Yet despite the initial ride breakdowns, plumber’s strikes and unfinished rides, America’s hunger for the possibilities of Disneyland was insatiable. Plopped into a 160-acre orange grove in California, Disneyland had a less-than-optimal Opening Day but an extremely successful first year. It’s estimated that 90 million viewers watched the initial coverage on TV; more than 3.5 million guests flooded Disneyland’s gates within its first year. (View the original ABC coverage of Opening Day at Disneyland, here.)

Black-and-white of man at center holding blueprints, surrounded by other men looking at prints, all in suits

Walt Disney shows plans for Disneyland’s layout to Orange County officials. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

How does Disney inspire you? Columnist Suzy Farbman offers Disney quotes that spark the entrepreneur—and dreamer—in all of us.

Then, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm wrote about a multi-generational spiritual pilgrimage to Walt’s “other” major investment: Disney World in Florida.

In 1955, Walt Disney greeted press and invited guests on July 17, although it wasn’t until the following day—July 18—that the park opened to the public. Admission to Disney’s $17 million investment cost just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children under 12, with additional charges for specific rides or amusements. (Learn more from History.com.)

Walt’s vision for a place where parents and children could have fun together had been completed in a single year—just as promised. It would be the first and only Disney park personally dedicated by Walt Disney, welcoming its 1 millionth visitor within two months after opening. (View black-and-white photos of early Disneyland here.)

Did you know? Disneyland Park originally featured five themed “lands:” Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA.

Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, spent years working as a commercial artist before producing animated cartoons. Ever the entrepreneur, Disney would strive throughout his career to improve the aesthetic and technical quality of his films and productions. In 1928, Steamboat Willy was the first animated film to use sound. In 1955, Disneyland presented an entirely new model for amusement parks. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, Disneyland welcomes more than 14 million visitors per year.

IN THE NEWS: DISNEYLAND AT 60, MAGIC IN SHANGHAI

Disneyland kicked off its Diamond Celebration on May 22, but 60th-birthday events continue for an entire year. (Get the scoop from ABC News.) New shows, limited-time merchandise and additions to current attractions are just a few of the surprises Disney has in store this year. (LA Times reports.) To date, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, claiming approximately 700 million visitors since Opening Day. Next year, the magic of Disney will spread to Shanghai, where a themed attraction will open in 2016.

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Categories: Anniversary

Eid al-Fitr: Muslims celebrate Feast of the Breaking of the (Ramadan) Fast

Thousands of white-clad Muslims on floor of giant building, pillars among crowd, tiers filled with devotees

Muslims gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JULY 17: An entire month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting has ended for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to Shawwaal with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr.

The beginning date of Shawwaal—the 10th month of the Islamic calendar—varies slightly by location, as the date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. Many families excitedly await news of a new moon from Saudi Arabia, when an official sighting is declared from the land of Muhammad; others look to scholars or predictions closer to home. The atmosphere of revelry and celebration overflows out of mosques, homes and neighborhoods worldwide.

The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE, and today, Muslims everywhere wear their best clothing for special prayers, processions and elaborate shared meals.

Did you know? The common greetings on Eid al-Fitr are Eid Mubarak (“Blessed Eid”) and Eid Sa’id (“Happy Eid”).

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, Bajram and Lesser Eid name just few. Though the month of Shawwaal officially begins just after sunset, most of the customary rituals of Eid al-Fitr begin several hours later.

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. (Wikipedia has details.) Perfume is sometimes worn for the occasion, and a small breakfast—usually dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque, hall or open area. Muslim tradition holds that Eid prayers should be offered in congregation, and so this morning, Muslims fill mosques, parks, halls and even open fields for joyous prayer services. Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? Eid al-Fitr is referred to as “Lesser Eid,” while Eid al-Adha—a separate holiday—is “Greater Eid.”

Tradition states that when Muhammad migrated from Mecca and arrived in Medina, he found the people there to be celebrating two special days, set aside for cheer and leisure. At this, Muhammad declared that the Almighty designated two alternate days for these purposes: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

FROM ARABIA TO AUSTRALIA: EID AL-FITR ACROSS THE GLOBE

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for one to three days, and in many Muslim communities, a central activity is the Eid prayers. Where possible, Muslims walk to the location of Eid prayers, and many use separate routes to and from the prayer grounds. Eid prayers are followed by a sermon, along with a request for God’s forgiveness and mercy. In turn, Muslims are urged to forgive others and put aside differences.

Desserts, sweet, sesame seeds, dried noodles, cream and nuts

Sweet treats are commonly consumed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Photo by Dani Armengol Garreta, courtesy of Flickr

In Saudi Arabia, it is not uncommon for shopkeepers to offer gifts with purchase prior to Eid, as a display of generosity. In some areas, men purchase large bags of rice and other basic food staples to leave anonymously on the doorsteps of the poor. In major cities, enormous fireworks shows take place each night of Eid celebrations. (View a slideshow of 2014 Eid activites here.) Egyptians observe Eid al-Fitr with days off from school and work, visiting family and spending days at local parks, theaters, beaches and carnivals. Television programs focus on Eid al-Fitr with movie marathons and live interviews featuring Eid commentaries. In Indonesia, one of the largest temporary human migrations takes place with Lebaran, the custom of workers returning to their home town to join in the revelries with their families. Since 1987, Australia has hosted the Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair in Sydney, catering to tens of thousands of attendees.

NEWS: A SCHOOL HOLIDAY, DATES & A $100 BILLION INDUSTRY

Last March, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio officially declared Islam’s two most-observed holidays—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—public school holidays. (Huffington Post reported.) The duo was the first religious addition to the academic calendar since the Jewish High Holy Days, in 1960. Throughout Ramadan and during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, dates are one of the most commonly consumed foods: Muslims eat the fruit alone, as part of a sweet dessert or even incorporated into a savory dish. Learn all about the variety and uses of dates—plus access a wide array of tantalizing recipes—in this article from the New York Times. As experts estimate that Muslim spending in America comprises a $100 billion industry, top designers like Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY are taking to the runway with Muslim-inspired designs for Ramadan and Eid. (Read more here.) The largest celebrations take place during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, though industry specialists are advising incoming brands to understand the holidays before trying to “break in” to the market.

Looking for both savory and sweet recipes for Eid al-Fitr? Check out the BBC.

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Categories: Muslim