Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Americans lend a hand in honor of Dr. King

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Man and dark-skinned boy digging shovels into dirt while others look on

Volunteer to serve others in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Rachel Feierman, Courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JANUARY 19: Serve the community, learn more about civil rights and remember a legendary life on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. An American federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January annually brings the celebration of the pivotal figure in American history. During his lifetime, King worked ceaselessly for the civil rights movement and nonviolent activism. Following his assassination in 1968, a campaign for a federal holiday in King’s name began circling almost immediately. Fifteen years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law. Today, Americans are urged to honor the “King Day of Service” by spending the day doing something Dr. King viewed as unparalleled: serving others.

AN INSPIRING RESOURCE—Daniel Buttry’s Interfaith Peacemakers project has published this inspiring story about Dr. King’s life. Readers are welcome to republish and share Buttry’s story about King with friends.


Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in suit with microphones, speaking outdoors

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

King was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, several representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983.


Federal legislation to transform Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into a national day of service was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Since that year, millions of Americans have volunteered their time on the third Monday of January, in efforts to help communities across the nation.

Interested in volunteering? Find a Toolkit to plan your Day of Service, or register an event, at NationalService.gov. Also, find free lesson plans for grades K-8, or share your volunteering experiences at Serve.gov.

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Churches unite to ‘give a drink’

Back of Christ the Redeemer statue, overlooking the ocean, sky view, in Brazil

The Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. This year, the Christian churches of Brazil prepared the internationally-used materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JANUARY 18: The world’s billions of Christians turn to the churches of Brazil this week, as adherents join together for the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. An observance begun in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity, the Week of Prayer turns to a new region and theme each year. In 2015, Christians worldwide will be utilizing biblical resource materials prepared by the Christian churches of Brazil. With a history of tolerance for its varying social classes and ethnic groups, Brazil is now facing increasing levels of bigotry, violence and competition for the religious market—all of which are being directly addressed this week through dialogues, diversity awareness and more. This year, the theme is: “Jesus said to her: ‘Give me to drink’” (John 4:7). By symbolically offering water to anyone who arrives, Christians may appreciate the diversity of the Kingdom of God.


In 1908, Father Paul Wattson conceived of a week for Christian unity beginning on the Feast of the Confession of Peter, and continuing through the octave of Sts. Peter and Paul. (Wikipedia has details.) The idea was blessed by Pope Pius X, and Benedict XV encouraged its widespread observance; when the World Council of Churches was formed in 1948, the Week of Prayer was further encouraged. Two decades later, the official first materials were prepared for use by churches around the world. (Find this year’s materials available for download here.) In the Southern Hemisphere, where January is typically a time for vacations, churches celebrate the Week of Prayer at a different time—usually, around Pentecost.


Churches around the world are addressing their members per the 2015 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

World Religion Day: Baha’i interfaith holiday kicks off trio for religious diversity

“O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home.”
Portion of a Baha’i prayer, frequently read on World Religion Day

Colorful nine-pointed star graphic on darker background

A depiction of the nine-pointed star, revered by Bahá’ís because it is the numerical value of the word “Baha” and is considered, numerically, the sign of perfection. Photo by pourquoitesla, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, JANUARY 17: Take a few moments to consider unity through diversity, joining Baha’is in the observation of World Religion Day.

Initiated in 1950, World Religion Day follows an essential tenet of the Baha’i religion: the belief that all religions are one, with each prophet or messenger delivering God’s truth for his time and place. Though deeply engrained in the faith, the call to “consort with followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship” is particularly emphasized on World Religion Day. (Learn more about the religion at Bahai.org.) When a feeling of oneness amid world religions is lacking, Baha’is believe, true global peace can never be achieved.

Established by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States for the third Sunday of January, World Religion Day brings interfaith panels and discussions, conferences and multi-faith gatherings to Baha’i communities. While followers of Baha’u’llah’s religion recognize Baha’u’llah in a primary way—as one who brought a message of unity that is essential for our time—adherents also accept such religious figures as Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. World Religion Day was created to raise awareness of similarities between the spiritual principles of various faiths.


In the coming weeks, two other holidays will highlight interfaith and religious diversity: the World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation—this year, January 25—and the United Nations Interfaith Harmony Week, observed the first week of February. Both events encourage dialogue among faiths and the recognition of similarities.


Baha’is hail from almost every nation, culture and ethnic group around the world, and recently, news publications have been focusing on the faith in Chile—and, more specifically, the first temple of its kind being built in the region. (Read a news article here.) Almost a century ago, an American woman traveled in hardship around South America, spreading awareness of the Baha’i faith that had begun just decades earlier. The religion stuck, and today, the first Baha’i temple is in progress in Santiago. The temple’s unique look will reflect concepts in the Baha’i faith, with an exterior made of cast-glass pieces and panels of marble to honor the daylight that will spill in and out of the structure. Upon completion, the temple will be three stories high and accompanied by an underground service tunnel.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Baha'i

Makar Sankranti: In India and Nepal, kites fly to welcome spring

Very colorful reels of kite strings stacked

Wheels of colorful kite strings for sale in Ahmedabad, India. Photo by Meena Kadri, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14: Kites fill the skies and the first scents of spring are in the air, as Hindus mark the astrological and seasonal festival of Makar Sankranti. Named for the entrance of the sun into the Tropic of Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara), it is during this springtime festival that Hindus rejoice in the departure of the darkest, coldest time of year. At this time, the harvest season begins and the northeast monsoon ceases. Sacred rituals resume, a New Year is welcomed and thanks are given to the sun and the earth. Several deities are worshiped on Makar Sankranti—preferences vary by region—but all rejoice with plenty of sweet treats, dancing, family reunions and dips in sacred bodies of water. Across India, millions of kites are raised high into the skies (as is detailed by this article, from The Hindu) .


Man sitting beneath marketplace tent, surrounded by multicolored strings on spools

A kite seller in India, for Makar Sankranti. Photo by Rajesh Pamnani, courtesy of Flickr

Though celebrated throughout India and in Nepal, Makar Sankranti takes on several varied names and beloved customs. Observed for up to four days, Makar Sankranti is sometimes preceded by Lohri, an evening filled with enormous bonfires and ceremonial dancing. In Nepal, Hindus feast on laddoo, ghee and sweet potatoes during the Maghe Sankranti festival, at which time the mother of each household wishes good health to all family members.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, India, Hindus light bonfires with old and unnecessary items, making room in their lives for change and transformation. Brothers visit married sisters during the day, and gifts of food, clothes and money are widely distributed. Prayers and new clothes mark the auspicious occasion, and during the course of the festival, animals are revered. Prepared food is always warming and energizing. (Wikipedia has details.)

Citizens of Maharashtra, India, exchange sweets as forgiveness of past ill deeds, while women in the region give and receive household gifts. Some Hindu children welcome migratory birds with food and song, and in various regions, a pot of rice boiling over is cause for a shout of “Ponggalo Ponggal!” with wishes for a blessed New Year.

Makar Sankranti is, universally, considered a period of enlightenment and prosperity. Melas, or fairs, are held across India.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) representatives are spreading messages of a safe Makar Sankranti for birds across India, urging kite-flyers to use cotton strings instead of the glass-covered manja strings popular for cutting down others’ kites. (The Times of India and Zee News reported.) Demonstrations, campaigns and posters remind Hindus that almost thousands of birds are injured or killed every year during Makar Sankranti, and that manja strings pose dangers for people, too. Ironically, birds are also one of the most popular themes for kite design this year. News reports are citing “Angry Birds” characters as one of the most highly requested images for kites in 2015.

Interested in making a kite? Learn how, with tips from PBS.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Faiths of India

Maghi: Sikhs memorialize 40 martyrs at Muktsar, request status changes

Large white building with dome on top across body of water

Gurdwara Muktsar Sahib, so named for the 40 Sikhs who perished in the Battle of Muktsar in 1705. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14: As the festival of Makar Sankranti surges across India with its kites and sweet treats, Sikhs recall a solemn and momentous anniversary: the death and cremation of the “40 liberated ones.” In December of 1705, 40 Sikhs who had previously abandoned the 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, returned to battle at Muktsar and suffered martyrdom for their leader. The imperial Mughal army was forced to retreat, and Guru Gobind Singh was free from attack. Following the death of the Chali Mukte (40 Liberated Ones), Guru Gobind Singh blessed the Sikhs and declared that they had reached mukti (liberation). Today, the largest gathering for this event—Mela Maghi—takes place at Sri Muktsar Sahib, a revered city in Punjab where the Battle of Muktsar took place.

Did you know? The city of Muktsar was originally called Khidrana, but was renamed “Muktsar,” or “the pool of liberation,” following the prominent battle of 1705.

The story of the 40 Liberated Ones begins when the group, led by Mahan Singh, had formally deserted Guru Gobind Singh and had written a memorandum about their decision. Shortly thereafter, the Sikhs were met by a spirited woman by the name of Mai Bhago, who reprimanded the Sikhs for their lack of bravery. The men were inspired and experienced a renewed sense of purpose. The Sikhs engaged in battle with the fatigued opposing forces, and though outnumbered, were victorious. (Learn more from All About Sikhs.) Before his death on the battlefield, Mahan Singh asked Guru Gobind Singh to forgive the 40 Sikhs who had previously deserted the leader. Gobind Singh officially declared the 40, now martyrs, as forgiven.

During Mela Maghi, Sikhs in India and worldwide gather in gurdwaras to recite hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) and watch elaborate recitals. At Muktsar, a grand three-day festival offers Sikhs a chance to submerge in sacred waters, worship at various locations and participate in a procession to Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib, a renowned favorite of Guru Gobind Singh. (Wikipedia has details.) According to the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhs should take baths and gather in congregation to review God’s virtues.


An organization for Sikh rights has obtained more than 100,000 signatures on a petition requesting President Obama discuss Sikh status issues and more during an upcoming trip to India, report news sources. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited President Obama to be chief guest at Republic Day on January 26, and American Sikhs are urging the President to bring up the issue of separate status for Sikhs in India. The petition, entitled “Sikhs are not Hindus,” also asks President Obama to speak with Prime Minister Narenda Modi about bringing justice to the victims of the highly organized Sikh Genocide, which occurred in 1984.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Sikh

Nativity of Christ: Orthodox Christians on Julian calendar observe Christmas

Nighttime with lit old architecture in background crowd of people clapping hands and singing

Coptic Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia at an Orthodox Christmas celebration at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, January 2012. Photo by Ridvan Yumlu, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 7: Cathedral bells ring in Christmas Day across Russia and in several Orthodox Christian communities worldwide, as those who follow the Julian calendar observe the Nativity of Christ. For the Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar, the calendar created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BCE ushers in Christmas on what most of the world views as January 7. From the Patriarch of Russia (who sent greetings to non-Orthodox churches on December 25) to Orthodox communities in Jerusalem, Serbia and Poland, elaborate services will usher in Christmas Day.

Having fasted in preparation for 40 days, it is with overwhelming joy that these Orthodox Christians approach the Nativity of Christ.

For Orthodox Christians, the feast of Christmas is officially called the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Services begin on the morning of Christmas Eve with readings of prophesies in the Bible; a fast is kept until sunset, and when the first star appears in the evening, a distinctive meal is consumed. The Christmas Eve evening meal, sometimes referred to as the Holy Night Supper, may consist of 12 vegan dishes—one for each Apostle. After the food has been partaken in, carols are sung and blessings are recited. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America.)

Additional services continue on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day. The following day, Dec. 26, is occasion for honoring the Virgin Mary as the mother of God. Church services on this day are devoted to Mary, as part of the Nativity.

Recent studies in Russia have shown that only 6 percent of Russians had planned to celebrate Christmas on December 25, and that approximately 87 percent of Orthodox believers—72 percent of the general population—will mark Christmas on January 7. According to polls, most celebrants will observe Christmas with their families, at home. (Tass Russian News Agency has the story.) This year, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned government officials from taking a lengthy holiday for Christmas, stating that the paid time for employees cannot be afforded. (Read more from Yahoo! Finance.) While Russian companies and government officials are typically permitted time off between January 1 and 12, many will be limited to keeping Christmas celebrations within a couple of days.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Epiphany: Christians celebrate the manifestation of God

Neutral color depiction of three men on camels in desert, facing forward, caravans behind

James Tissot’s The Magi Journeying (Les rois mages en voyage). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, JANUARY 6: Christians worldwide rejoice in the manifestation of Jesus, revealed as God the Son, on the Feast of Epiphany (in Greek, Theophany). Literally “striking appearance,” or “vision of God,” Epiphany and Theophany have been central to both Eastern and Western Christian calendars for centuries. Through Advent, the Western Christian Church anticipated the coming of Jesus, and of course Mary and Joseph were the earliest witnesses. But Christian tradition holds that one key moment in this revelation was the arrival of the Magi—representatives of other nations—when the true unveiling of God’s purpose took place. (Learn more, and find resources, at Catholic Culture and Women for Faith and Family.)

In a similar way, Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Jesus’s manifestation as the Son of God, at this time of year, but Eastern tradition focuses on his baptism in the Jordan River as the key moment of revelation.

Note: Many churches in the United States today commemorate Epiphany on the Sunday between Jan. 2 and 8—this year, Jan. 4—and Eastern Orthodox churches following the Julian calendar will observe Theophany in 13 days (on Jan. 19). Most Western Christian churches will commemorate Jesus’s baptism on Sunday, Jan. 11.

Man with tall decorated hat surrounded by crowd of children wearing paper crowns

Three Kings Day Parade 2013, in New York. Photo by Dave Bledsoe, courtesy of Flickr

Epiphany customs in some regions of the world rival those of Christmas, complete with parades, parties, king cakes and “visiting” Magi. (In centuries past, Epiphany Eve—Twelfth Night—had elaborate traditions all its own.) On the morning of Epiphany in Poland, some children dress in renaissance clothing, carols are sung and homes are blessed; in Argentina, many children awake to find gifts left by the “passing” Magi.

A house blessing, inscribed with chalk, is popular in several parts of central Europe. Write a blessing on your home by inscribing the following above the front door: 20 C+M+B 15. (“2015″ split into two, and the initials of the Magi.)

Finnish piparkakuts, ginger spice cookies, are typically cut into the shape of a star and served on Epiphany. Find the authentic recipe at this blog, or in this New York Times post.

In many countries, a king cake filled with almond paste, spiced with exotic spices or decorated with dried fruits is baked, and one bean is tucked inside: the recipient of the slice of cake with the bean is believed blessed for the year (or, in Mexico, the recipient must host the Candlemas party. Wikipedia has details). In some Orthodox nations, a Cross is cast into open water by a priest, and swimmers compete to retrieve it—the reward for which is a blessing by the priest. In numerous countries, Epiphany officially kicks off Carnival season.


In the Western Christian Church, Epiphany commemorates the Adoration of the Magi—and, to a lesser extent, the Baptism of Jesus and the Wedding at Cana. All three events reveal the manifestation of God as Jesus, Christians believe, and some early accounts detail the Miracle at Cana—Christ’s first public miracle—as having occurred on Jan. 6. Eastern Orthodox tradition focuses on Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) As Jesus’s baptism is commemorated foremost in the Orthodox Church, a Great Blessing of the Waters is performed.

Tradition has it that the Magi were baptized by St. Thomas. They are considered saints of the Church.


Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian