Ramadan: Muslims fast during ‘longest’ days of the calendar year

Woman stands below grand ceiling, hands raised, looking at ceiling, in dress and headscarf

A Muslim woman offers a Ramadan prayer. Photo by Thamer Al-Hassan, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 5: As a crescent moon appears and is spotted across the globe, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims—or, 23 percent of the global population—begin the month of Ramadan. (A note: Starting dates vary by location and by method of calculation.) As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and a time of great feasting. This year, Ramadan ends on the evening of Tuesday, July 5.

American Muslims and July 4th: This year, Ramadan and the American Independence Day will overlap, meaning that any typical holiday fare—such as food cooked on the grill—will have to be held off until after sunset.

Fasting hours reach peak in 2016: As Ramadan moves slowly around the Gregorian calendar, 2016 will cover some of the “longest” days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere—which, for observant Muslims, equates to more hours of daytime fasting. This year, Ramadan will incorporate the summer solstice, on June 2o—the “longest” day of the year.


Three dates in wooden bowl

Three dates are traditionally consumed at the end of each day’s fast during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of YouTube

Fasting is a tradition in nearly all of the world’s great faiths—but the word “fasting” can refer to many different practices. In some traditions, giving up meat or other kinds of foods is a fast. In other groups, a fast may be the elimination of a single meal—or may refer to avoiding food, but not liquids.

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Many Muslim communities around the world invite special vocal interpreters of the Quran to come to mosques and chant the sacred text, night after night, until the entire holy book is completed.

Looking for traditional recipes this Ramadan? Look to AllRecipes and Epicurious for a generous selection.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset. Three dates customarily break the fast each day, and an iftar meal is often an occasion for social gatherings, large feasts and buffet-style hosting. Occasionally, Muslims describe the night-time iftar tradition as “like a series of Thanksgiving dinners,” because friends and family often visit each other during the nights of Ramadan—and, often, favorite dishes are prepared for these feasts.


A lantern with colored glass on each side, reflecting colors onto walls around it

A Ramadan lantern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, or “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory action.

Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have taken place on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, and those who are able to pray as often as possible during these days in a practice known as I’tikaf.

Do you know Muslim friends, neighbors or co-workers? Michigan State University’s Joe Grimm reports on an easy and friendly way to reach out during Ramadan.


Working hours reduced by two hours during Ramadan: For private sector employees in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), working hours during Ramadan will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., The National recently reported. School hours will also be shortened, as Ramadan overlaps with some of the final days of the 2016 academic calendar.

Interfaith iftars: Interfaith Jewish seders have been steadily gaining popularity, but a Minnesota-based Episcopal priest is organizing efforts to expand that interfaith friendliness to Muslims, too—with a program that raises awareness of the truths about Islam and welcomes non-Muslims to iftar meals during Ramadan. Last year, close to 1,000 non-Muslims participated in the iftars in Minnesota, and across the country, similar programs are being initiated.

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Categories: Muslim

Trinity Sunday: Christians celebrate Father, Son, Holy Spirit after Penetecost

Painting of man on cloud, old, another man, young, and dove flying above

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, MAY 22: It’s been one week since Pentecost, and for Western Christians, this marks Trinity Sunday. A celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—Trinity Sunday is celebrated across Western liturgical churches. Though the early Church observed no specific day for the Holy Trinity, Thomas Becket (1118-70 CE) helped spread the observance of such a day across Western Christendom when he said that the day of his consecration would be held as a new festival for the Holy Trinity. Still, a day set aside solely for the Holy Trinity continued to vary by Sunday in several regions until Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church, in 1334 CE.

Note: The Thursday following Trinity Sunday is observed as the Feast of Corpus Christi. In some countries, this feast may be moved to the following Sunday.

According to Christian tradition: Following the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost, Christians regard that the Holy Trinity has been fully revealed. Last week, signs of the Holy Spirit were evident in red banners, roses and doves; this week, vestments are white and a new season begins. The shamrock and viola tricolor pansy symbolize the Trinity, and in some churches, the Athanasian Creed is recited or read.


Families, youth groups and others can teach St. Augustine’s simplified explanation of the Trinity to children today. Children can also go outdoors to search for shamrocks and pansies, or prepare a dinner with cloverleaf rolls and a three-in-one fruit salad. The table may be decorated with a “Trinity” candle, and a vase of collected tri-petal wildflowers.

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Categories: Christian

Vesak: Buddhist lanterns and ceremonies celebrate the sacred ‘triple gem’

Temple lit at night beside water

The Gangaramaya Temple in Sri Lanka, lit during Vesak. Photo by Nazly Ahmed, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, MAY 21 and SUNDAY, MAY 22: Millions of glowing lanterns shine brightly in Buddhist communities worldwide, as the collective birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha is observed with the holiday of Vesak. Known also as Visakha Puja or Wesak (spellings vary), Vesak begins before dawn in many regions, with ceremonies, decorated temples, shared vegetarian meals and deep meditation. In 2016, Vesak is commemorated on May 21 in most regions of India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia; in Indonesia, this year’s Vesak occurs on May 22. This holy day is greeted by devout Buddhists across Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, the Phillippines, Thailand and several other South East Asian countries—along with various other locations across the globe.

Did you know? Some Buddhists informally refer to Vesak as “Buddha Day,” or “Buddha’s Birthday.”

Buddhism has been practiced for millennia, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the official decision was made—at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists—to observe Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday. Today, devotees bring offerings to temples—such as flowers or candles—in representation of the objects of this world that fade away. Monks provide lectures, and laypersons wear white clothing. It is expected that Buddhists will try to bring some happiness to the unfortunate on this significant day, and review the Four Noble Truths.

Did you know? The design of the Buddhist flag is based on the six colors of the aura believed to have surrounded Buddha after his enlightenment. It is used in almost 60 countries, especially during Vesak.

In commemoration of three major events—the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the historical Buddha—Vesak is recognized by all Buddhist sects. It acknowledges the peace that Buddha brought to the world through the “triple gem”: Buddha himself, the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (Buddha’s disciples). Most Buddhists today use candles and small lamps to illuminate temples, streets and homes, representing the light of Buddha’s teachings. In Japan, legend has it that a dragon appeared in the sky on Buddha’s birthday and poured soma (a ritual drink) over him.

Interested in making your own Vesak lantern? Check out this site’s DIY instructions, which include using everyday materials such as drinking straws and tissue paper.

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Categories: BuddhistFaiths of India

Memorial Day: Commemorate fallen soldiers, honor history and kick off summer

Soldiers holding flags, one saluting, white navy uniformed men in back, on grass conducting ceremony

A 2013 Memorial Day ceremony in California. Photo by Presidio of Monterey, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MAY 30: Patriotic parades, solemn ceremonies and the unofficial start of summer mark Memorial Day in the United States, observed annually on the last Monday of May. In some communities, Americans young and old line the streets for parades. Many take time to listen to veterans’ stories and pay respect to fallen soldiers.

If you are reading this column and care about the lives of veterans and their families, we recommend that you learn more about a book, 100 Questions and Answers about Veterans, produced by the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

Originally called Decoration Day, this national holiday began after the Civil War.

Who was “first”? Many claims have been made about which community first began honoring fallen soldiers in the Civil War era. Wikipedia summarizes several of them:

A claim was made in 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia, on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. Women in Savannah, Georgia, decorated Confederate soldiers’ graves in 1862, but not Union soldiers’ graves. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865.

Library of Congress preserves this photo taken in 1865 while the African-American reconstruction of the cemetery in Charleston was in progress. The rows of markers are newly established individual Union graves.

The Library of Congress preserves this photo, taken in 1865 while the African-American reconstruction of the cemetery in Charleston was in progress. The rows of markers are newly established individual Union graves.

The events in Charleston were documented by historian Stephen Blight. If you care to delve more deeply into that story of courageous former slaves who dared to hold the observance in Charleston in 1865, click on the historic photo or right here to jump back to some of our earlier coverage.

The first official Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery—May 30, 1868—drew a crowd of 5,000 people, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. By 1890, each state in the North had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states didn’t follow suit until after World War I. (Wikipedia has details.) As the nation and its memorial holiday evolved, Decoration Day was recognized as a day of remembrance for all soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for their country. Gradually, the holiday became known as Memorial Day, and in 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved the date from a fixed May 30 to the last Monday in May. That law took effect in 1971.

In cemeteries across the nation, small American flags are placed at each veteran’s grave for Memorial Day remembrances and, among some families, flowers are placed on fallen ancestors’ gravesites.

National Memorial Day Concert

Click on this image to visit the concert’s website.

Don’t Miss the May 29 Concert

Each year, a National Memorial Day Concert is held in Washington D.C.—this year, at 3 p.m. on Sunday May 29, carried live by PBS and NPR. The program will be co-hosted by Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise. The concert is broadcast to U.S. troops serving around the world on the American Forces Network, reaching more than 1,000 outlets in more than 175 countries and on board U.S. Navy ships. This year’s concert lineup includes The Beach Boys, Katharine McPhee and the National Symphony Orchestra.

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Categories: National Observances

Pentecost: Red flowers and doves for birthday of the Christian Church

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
Acts 2

Church altar draped in red cloth with dove and flames on it, candles on top of cloth

An altar decorated for Pentecost. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, MAY 15: The ancient feast of Pentecost is marked with red drapery and vestments, symbols of the Holy Spirit, processions and holy sacraments. Though Pentecost originates from the Greek translation of the Jewish springtime festival now celebrated as Shauvot, it has been observed by Christians for centuries, and falls seven weeks after Easter.

In Christian tradition, Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, women and other followers of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in many languages for the purpose of spreading the Word of God. In this manner, some Christians regard Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church.”

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS—This year, Pentecost is observed by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church on June 19, as Pascha (Easter) was celebrated long after the Western Christian Easter.


According to the Book of Acts and Christian tradition: Approximately 120 followers of Christ were gathered on the morning that the Pentecost took place, in the Upper Room. Then, a roar of wind came into the room, and tongues of fire descended upon those in the room. With the gift of the tongues of fire, those gathered believed evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit; they began speaking many different languages. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) Peter proclaimed the fulfillment of a prophesy.

When the group left the Upper Room, a crowd had gathered. While some accused the followers of Christ of sputtering drunken babble, Peter corrected them and declared that an ancient prophesy had been fulfilled. When the crowds asked what they could do, Peter told the people to repent and be baptized—which thousands did.

You can read the key passage from the second chapter of the Book of Acts yourself in this New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Rose petals strewn on floor

Rose petals fill a Roman church on Pentecost. Photo by Stefano Costantini, courtesy of Flickr


Pentecost services in the Western Christian Church often involve red flowers, vestments and banners, all representing the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire. Trumpets and brass ensembles may depict the sound of the “mighty wind” in a musical manner. There is even an old tradition of Holy Ghost holes in the roofs of churches, so that the Holy Spirit could “descend” upon the congregation; at Pentecost, the holes were decorated and a dove was lowered into the church. (Wikipedia has details.) In Italy, rose petals scattered from above represent the fiery tongues; in parts of England, Whit Fairs and Morris dancing were commonplace on Whitsunday, or Penecost.


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Categories: Christian

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: Israeli memorial day and celebration of independence

An Israeli flag and flag baners decorate the balcony of an apartment

Israelis fly flags with pride on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

MAY 10-12 in Western calendars: Back-to-back commemorations in Israel begin at sunset on Tuesday, May 10, this year. First, Yom Hazikaron is an Israeli memorial day recalling the cost of the nation’s freedom. Then, at sunset Wednesday, May 11, the solemn tone turns to celebration for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day.

Given the strong connection the global Jewish community feels to the establishment of Israel, these holidays are widely marked around the world.

The ReformJudaism.org website has an array of thought-provoking reflections on these two holidays. To put these observances in context:

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar—Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays.

The Israeli Knesset established Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day that marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April. Then, the Knesset designated the day before Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles.


An Israeli government website now provides an inspiring list of readings for individuals and families marking these observances. Some are widely known and used, but—even if you regularly mark these occasions—you may find some interesting texts here that you haven’t seen before.

Here is the Israeli selection of readings for Remembrance Day.

And, here is the list of readings for Independence Day.

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Categories: Jewish

Mother’s Day: Millions of Americans celebrate ‘Mom’—however defined

Woman with two twin girls, young

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MAY 8: Honor Mom today with a bouquet of flowers, a homemade card or just your time, as today marks the American version of Mother’s Day.

A 1908 church service in West Virginia gave birth to the holiday now known across the U.S. as Mother’s Day—a national holiday that, annually, grosses billions of dollars in flowers, gifts and cards and pays homage to the millions of mothers across the country. Though versions of the current American Mother’s Day predated its creation—and, worldwide, several variations have existed for centuries—today’s modern holiday holds no ties to a particular historical saint or figure, but, rather, just to Mom. The first “official” service took place at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where a woman by the name of Anna Jarvis honored her own mother. After exhaustive campaigning by Jarvis, President Woodrow Wilson set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, by 1914.

It may seem ironic that the primary advocate of the first Mother’s Day—Anna Jarvis—soon regretted having petitioned so persistently for the holiday, as the commercialism that rapidly followed its ascent was a stark contrast to the small-scale, personalized holiday that had originally been envisioned. Nonetheless, experts attest that had it not been for the early commercialization of Mother’s Day, it—like other smaller holidays of its time—would likely have fizzled out.

Did you know? Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church of Grafton, built in 1873, became the site of an International Mother’s Day Shrine in the 1960s. In 1992, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

During the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitation conditions, lower rates of infant mortality, fight disease and contamination and assist other mothers. When the Civil War broke out, women in these clubs looked after wounded soldiers. Upon the death of Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, was prompted to organize a tribute service for her at her church. Jarvis distributed hundreds of carnations—her mother’s favorite flower—to mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton.


Hallmark is releasing cards for Mother’s Day 2016 geared toward the “new normal” of family structures, reports USA Today. This year, card messages focus not only on traditional moms, but also on stay-at-home dads, divorced parents and same-sex couples. According to a Hallmark representative, “Now you see a huge range of situations represented … We are really trying to represent a diverse range of relationships that represent current society.”


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Categories: National Observances