Daylight Savings Time: Turn clocks ahead one hour as DST begins

Close-up of clock with two smaller clocks inside

Photo courtesy of Pexels

SUNDAY, MARCH 8: It’s time for spring—or, at least, to “spring” clocks forward by one hour, as Daylight Savings Time begins. First proposed by New Zealand’s George Vernon Hudson in 1895, the concept of Daylight Savings Time was originally proposed to utilize after-work hours for leisure activities with extra daylight. In a practical sense, Germany and Austria-Hungary used DST in 1916 to conserve coal during wartime; Britain and many of its allies soon followed suit. Though DST has fallen in and out of favor for decades, it is still widely used today throughout Europe and most of the United States. (Wikipedia has details.)

Care to start a debate with friends? Americans like to name Benjamin Franklin as the first proponent of Daylight Savings Time, because of a satirical essay he published while serving as an American envoy to Paris in 1784. Among other things, he urged the ringing of church bells and the firing of canons to get Parisians out of bed earlier each morning. However, historians now say that’s not the same as proposing Daylight Savings Time, which refers to a public shift in timekeeping. The 18th-century world had no concept of nationally standardized timekeeping, as we do today. Thus, many contemporary scholars don’t credit Ben with this particular innovation. (Want more ammunition on this point? Wikipedia offers more.)

Still, many question its value in 21st century society, and arguments are made for the disruptions it causes in sleep patterns, traffic accidents, health issues and business.

Not all states in America practice Daylight Savings Time—Arizona and Hawaii have both opted to keep standard time—and currently, several states are in the midst of deciding whether or not to keep Daylight Savings Time. A bill in Washington is proposing the end of DST in that northwestern state, and five other states have similar pending legislation. (Check out the story, here.) Around the globe, Europe still relies heavily on DST, while Asia, Australia and Africa largely use standard time.


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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Holi: Hindus revel in festival of color and usher in a vibrant springtime

Crowd of people covered in colored powders with powders being thrown into the air, outdoors

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, MARCH 6: Explosions of color cross India today as the mega-festival of spring arrives. The ancient Holi festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and bridges social, economic and gender gaps in Indian communities. On Holi, colorful powders are thrown at friends and strangers, as everyone wishes each other a “Happy Holi.” Celebrations now rage worldwide, and in some parts of India, festivities last more than two weeks.


The night before Holi, excitement begins to build with massive community Holika bonfires. Around the bonfire, participants sing and dance, recalling the destruction of Holika, an evil demoness of Hindu legend. (Wikipedia has details.) The night before Holi, the scores of Holika bonfires serve as reminder of the victory of good over evil. In some regions, effigies of Holika are burnt in the fires.

Three boys happy covered in colored powder

Boys celebrate Holi in India. Photo by Jean-Marc Gargantiel, courtesy of Flickr


Nothing says “spring” like vibrant hues, and Holi ushers in a fresh season in India with vigor and excitement. The morning of Holi, revelers head outdoors with colored powders and water guns, dousing passersby, friends and neighbors. (Learn more from Holi delicacies are consumed, past wrongdoings are forgiven and debts are paid. In many regions, broken friendships are addressed and families take time to visit each other. Some groups carry drums and instruments in a singing and dancing procession.

While Holika is brought to mind on the eve of Holi, Krishna is worshipped during the festival of Holi. The divine love of Radha for Krishna makes Holi a festival of love. Various legends explain the link between the child Krishna and Holi’s many colors.

Holi hues:
natural vs. synthetic

India’s Holi colors were traditionally plant-derived, serving a dual purpose as bright powders and supposedly serving as herbal protectants against springtime allergens. As urban areas became more populated, cheaper, more available synthetics began gaining in popularity. A lack of control over quality and content led to mass sales of synthetic colors that contained dangerous heavy metals, caused skin and eye irritations and polluted the groundwater and air. Organizations and environmental groups have taken action in recent years, campaigning for safe colors and making naturally derived powders available once again.


Outside of India, Holi is observed by Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Trinidad, Fiji and South Africa, among other countries with an Indian diaspora population. Recently, festivals and activities have sprung up in cities across the United States and the United Kingdom—Holi now is popular on many college campuses, for example. In some countries, Holi parties are scheduled according to the country’s climate and seasons.


While Hindus are throwing colored powders and rejoicing in spring, Sikhs turn to a different festival: Hola Mohalla, literally translated into “mock fight.” In 1699 CE, the 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa, a group of men who had shown immense bravery and selflessness. These saint-soldiers pledged loyalty to the poor and oppressed, vowing to defend wherever injustice was present. Two years later, Guru Gobind Singh instituted a day of mock battles and poetry contests, to demonstrate the skills and values of the Khalsa and to inspire other Sikhs. Today, these events have evolved into Hola Mohalla, a week-long festival replete with music, military processions and kirtans. Food is voluntarily prepared and large groups of Sikhs eat in communion. (Read more at SikhiWiki.) The largest annual Hola Mohalla festival is held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, although many gurdwaras worldwide hold their own versions of the events at Anandpur.

The Nihangs, bearing the symbol of the Khalsa, often display their skills at Hola Mohalla and are distinct for their blue robes, large turbans, swords, all-steel bracelets and uncut hair. During Hola Mohalla, Nihangs display a mastery of horsemanship, war-like sports and use of arms. Guru Gobind Singh instructed Sikhs to obey the highest ethical standards and to always be prepared to fight tyranny.


Demand is rising for safe and natural Holi colors, as was recently reported from Pune.

Widows in India wear only white and are often neglected, but this Holi, a group is organizing colorful celebrations for the once-forgotten women. Learn more from the Times of India.

Online shopping for Holi is slowly gaining popularity, though doubts of timely deliverance and other concerns bring limitations. Check out this article to learn more.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHinduSikh

Purim: Jews masquerade and celebrate the story of Esther and Mordecai

Purple and gold feather face mask on top of paper with Hebrew script

Photo by David Hurwitz, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4: On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mor- dechai.” In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.

That’s how popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim, which happens at nightfall on March 4 this year. Debra’s book This Jewish Life is full of fascinating real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar.

The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible. When the beautiful young Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, she hid her Jewish identity. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, held a key position in the kingdom but was hated by the king’s advisor for refusing to bow down to him. In a rage, the king’s advisor—Haman—plotted to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews.

Did you know? The name of G_d is not mentioned in the book of Esther, and many Jews interpret this as indication that G_d works in ways that are not always apparent. On Purim, disguises and costumes serve as symbolism of G_d “hidden” behind the scenes.

The story’s turning point was the king’s love of Esther, who was chosen to be his queen. Though Haman had already convinced King Ahasuerus to kill the Jews in Persia, Esther fasted for three days, approached the king and revealed her own Jewish identity, pleading with the king to save the Jewish population. (Wikipedia has details.) The king later hanged Haman and his 10 sons on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai. The Jewish people in Persia were saved from the plot of Haman.

Triangular pastries filled with dark jam, in a pile

Hamentashen, a popular pastry for Purim. Photo by Rebecca Siegel, courtesy of Flickr

To this day, many Jews still observe the Fast of Esther from dawn to dusk today. With the start of Purim, fruit-filled cookies are served, outrageous costumes are donned, plenty of wine is consumed and comical skits entertain jovial audiences. In the synagogue, readings from the book of Esther evoke hissing, booing and stomping, as Jews “blot out” the name of the villainous Haman. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)


The carnivals and masquerades of Purim are accompanied by the four primary obligations of the day: to listen to a public reading of the book of Esther in the evening and the morning; to send food gifts to friends; to give charity to the poor; and to partake in a festive meal. (Find interactive tools and more at and

The signature treat for this holiday is: Hamentaschen, or Haman’s pockets. FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis tells the story of baking these delicious triangular treats in her family—and provides her own recipe for these cookies.


An array of Purim recipes can be found at AllRecipes. For a crunchy take on Haman’s pockets, try these—made of Rice Krispies. Thirsty? Try making your own apricot-infused bourbon for Purim.

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Categories: Jewish

Hinamatsuri: Japanese families bring out the dolls in elaborate displays

Hina Matsuri display in Japan

Many Japanese homes display dolls for this special holiday. Some are able to set up a full seven-layer display like this one, photographed by Chris73 and provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

TUESDAY, MARCH 3: Intricately detailed dolls are displayed en masse across Japan and in Japanese communities worldwide, as Hinamatsuri commences.

Known alternatively as “Doll’s Day,” or “Girls’ Day,” Hinamatsuri draws from the custom of doll display that began during the Heian period. When people believed that dolls could contain bad spirits, it was also believed that by floating a doll down a river aboard a simple boat, bad spirits would be carried away, too. Today, few Japanese float dolls out to sea—due to environmental concerns and complaints from fishermen who find dolls tangled in their nets.  Alternatively, the dolls are placed onto boats until after ceremonies are complete, at which time the dolls are recollected and burned in a temple.


Elaborate hina dan, or platforms, used to display Hinamatsuri dolls have seven levels. The top tier holds two imperial dolls—the Emperor and Empress—placed in front of a gold folding screen; the second tier holds three court ladies; the third holds five male musicians. On the fourth platform, two ministers stand on either side of bowl tables; on the fifth tier, samurai are displayed, and on the final two platforms, various furniture pieces, tools and more are placed. When Hinamatsuri is over, dolls are taken down almost immediately, for fears of superstition.

Care to read more? Wikipedia has a detailed overview of the traditions behind these platforms.

While praying for the happiness and health of young girls, families often consume hina-arare, bite-sized crackers, and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake. Sushi rice topped with raw fish and a salt-based soup, ushiojiru, are also commonly eaten on Hinamatsuri. The customary drink is shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. Though Hinamatsuri is primarily celebrated in Japan, festivities are also held in Hawaii and in select other regions of the world.


This year, a Japanese pastry and confectionery company, Mon Cher, is offering a line of Sanrio-inspired cakes for Hinamatsuri, featuring Hello Kitty and My Melody. (Read more here.) Similarly, many bakeries and food services offer specialty items for Doll’s Day.

At the Kyoto National Museum, an exhibition of historical Hinamatsuri dolls will be back for the first time in six years, as the museum’s new wing has reopened to the public after construction. (The Japan Times reported.) This year, the exhibition will feature dolls from different eras, including a new donation of dolls once commissioned for a baby girl in 1844.

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Categories: Faiths of East AsiaInternational Observances

MARCH: Irish-American heritage, 50 years of ‘Music,’ women’s history & spring

Cluster of green three-leaf plants, some with drops of water on them

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MARCH 2015—Sprigs of green are popping up as the first signs of spring emerge—and just in time, as spring officially begins on March 20 in the Northern Hemisphere. Seeing green won’t be hard in even the coldest regions this month, though, because St. Patrick’s Day brings its revelry and accompanying Irish-American Heritage Month in March. The saying goes that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so early this month, stay indoors with something creative for National Craft Month; later this month, go outside to stretch your legs for Kite Month.

Ireland may take center stage through most of March, but this year, hop over a few countries to Austria—it’s the 50th anniversary of the film release of The Sound of Music, and the movie will be re-released in March. Even for those who can’t make it to the year-long extravaganza in Salzburg can pay homage to their local music programs, as March is Music in Our Schools Month. Also in March, encourage children for Youth Art Month and the birthday of the famous Dr. Seuss—on March 2.

Women’s history makes its mark in March, and don’t forget to recognize the American Red Cross, too. Plant seedlings for a garden and kick-start better health this month, because March is Nutrition Month.

Check out these month-long highlights …


Corned beef, shepherd’s pie and St. Patrick shape just a portion of the Irish culture honored this month, as the United States commemorates Irish-American Heritage Month. Proclaimed yearly by the United States President or Congress, Irish-American Heritage Month honors the achievements and contributions of Irish immigrants and their descendants: Nine signers of the Declaration of Independence, more than 20 of George Washington’s generals and 253 Medal of Honor recipients, just to name a few. Surveys show that the number of U.S. residents who currently claim Irish ancestry is approximately 34 million—more than seven times the entire population of Ireland. On St. Patrick’s Day at the White House, the Shamrock Ceremony and St. Patrick’s Day Reception honor the many contribution of Irish Americans to United States culture and history.


Sheet music booklet with page being turned

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The role of music in education takes center stage in March, with Music in Our Schools Month. In Wayne Baker’s recent series, Kids & Success, he asked: Could music be the key skill for success in today’s world? When budget cuts threaten school music programs, the National Association for Music Education points out the incredible value of music—and ways to incorporate it across the curriculum. For 30 years, March has been deemed Music in Our Schools Month, but this year’s celebration incorporates another landmark anniversary: the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, the film that nabbed five Oscars and two Golden Globes and became a cultural phenomenon. With a yearlong tribute taking place in Salzburg and a 50th Anniversary Festival in June, The Sound of Music will be re-released into theaters in April. This month, 20th Century Fox will re-release the home entertainment version.


The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia highlight the contributions of women during the month of March, as part of Women’s History Month. Globally recognized on March 8—International Women’s Day—women’s impact on history and world culture are recognized at events, in schools and by municipalities. International Women’s Day draws back to 1911, but the U.S. did not observe a month-long commemoration until 1987. This year, the theme for National Women’s History Month is: “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.”

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Intercalary Days & Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is mark holy period before New Year

Shades of purple, pink and blue in calm water and rocks at sunset with sky

Beginning at sunset, and for three days, Baha’is will observe the joyous Ayyam-i-Ha; following will be the Nineteen-Day Fast, which ends the day before New Year. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • SUNSET WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of three special days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a special fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.


Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith, as the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on February 28, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha. (Wikipedia has details.)

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar will reflect changes made by the Universal House of Justice. Starting in 2015, Naw-Ruz (New Year) will fall on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

The Nineteen-Day Fast takes place during the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar, known as the month of Ala. Intercalary Days account for the days “in between” the 18th month and Ala. This year, because Vernal Equinox falls on March 20, Intercalary Days will last an unprecedented three days.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation—which is not practiced in Islam—was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. (Learn more from Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.


SUNSET SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: With the festive days of Ayyim-i-Ha behind, Baha’is enter the final month of the calendar year with the Nineteen-Day Fast. For the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar year—Ala, which lasts 19 days—Baha’is observe a sunrise-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith. (Learn more from Planet Baha’i.) Instituted by the Bab and revised by Baha’u’llah, the Nineteen-Day Fast is intended to bring a person closer to God. According to the Bab, the true purpose of the fast is to abstain from everything except divine love. Fasting guidelines, exemptions and more are in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws.


A young singer whose online demos nabbed the interest of a Grammy-winning producer has created an album of “Neo-soul” beats, as she joins an emerging wave of Baha’i artists on the international music scene. (Read more at Shameem, a native of Australia, recently released The Second City, so named for one of Baha’u’llah’s works, The Seven Valleys. Shameem’s songs use vivid imagery of concepts such as the Valley of Love, and her 2015 Australian tour will feature songs from the new album.

Interested in Shameem’s music? Check out a YouTube video of one of her songs, Under One Sun.


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Categories: Baha'i

Clean Monday: Orthodox Christians kick off Lent with kites, seafood & lagana

Round flatbread with seeds on top, torn in half with brown sauce on side in cup

Greek lagana bread, baked only for Clean Monday. Photo by Sofia Gk, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23: The flavors of shellfish and soft lagana bread are associated with the start of the Lenten season in Greece. Outside, colorful kites fly above the fields as Orthodox Christians mark Clean Monday.

Western Christian Lent began last week with Ash Wednesday. The moveable date of Easter (at the end of Lent) and the method of counting 40 days in Lent is one of the centuries-old differences among Christians East and West.

“Western Christians count Lent’s 40 days as starting with Ash Wednesday but excluding Sundays. Eastern Christians, those generally called Orthodox, start their 40 days on a Monday, counting Sundays, but excluding the week leading up to Easter.” That’s one of the intriguing details in the book, Our Lent: Things We Carry, by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. “Some Christians fast; some don’t. Millions of Western Christians retain a custom of limited fasting; millions of Eastern Christians prayerfully make significant sacrifices during this season.”

Eight days ago, Eastern Christians observed Meatfare Sunday, the last time observant Christians will eat meat until Pascha (Easter). One day ago was Cheesefare Sunday, when Eastern Christians consume dairy products for the last time. Today, Orthodox families begin the fast of Great Lent with “clean” foods and a cleansed state of mind.


Rather than begin Lent in a solemn manner, Clean Monday is celebrated as a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus: outdoor activities, zany local traditions, kite flying and plenty of (Lenten-friendly) food is par for the course. (Greek Reporter has the story.) As shellfish is permitted in these cultures throughout Lent, a spread of extravagant dishes based on the food is common on Clean Monday in Greece.

Customs and traditions vary by locality in Greece on the first day the Lenten season, with colored flour being thrown into crowds in Glaxidi, on the northern coast of the Corinth Gulf; on the Greek island of Chios, a man dresses up as “Aga,” or “Ayas” (the tax collector), then he and his followers grab local villagers to put them into a mock trial. The “criminals” found guilty must suffer punishment or pay a fine that funds the village’s cultural association.


The flying of kites across Greece welcomes spring in a colorful and festive manner, and many traditional kite makers pride themselves on decades of experience. When out and about, picnic baskets are often filled with lagana, an unleavened bread baked only for Clean Monday, and taramosalata, a dip made of salted and cured roe mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs. (Wikipedia has details.) Feasts of bean soup, shellfish dishes, octopus platters, shrimp dishes and more are carefully prepared for a Clean Monday extravaganza.

Interested in baking lagana? Find a recipe at the blog Lemon & Olives, or at The Greek Vegan.

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Categories: Christian