Ethiopians celebrate first Meskel since making UNESCO list

Children in colorful robes with dark skin stand in crowd appearing to perform

Children participate in the Meskel festivities at Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, 2012. Photo by opalpeterliu, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26: Bonfires ignite an ancient story as darkness spreads across the Ethiopian landscape tonight: Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Christians celebrate Demera, the eve of the grand holiday of Meskel. Recalling the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena in the fourth century, the bonfires of Meskel eve recreate the colossal bonfire that St. Helena experienced in a dream. Ethiopians remember a traditional Christian story that says St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire; after adding incense, the bonfire’s smoke rose high into the sky and, returning to the ground, touched the precise spot where the true cross was located. It’s believed that a part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.


The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years, and although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, today’s Ethiopia is packed with adherents who grandly celebrate Meskel. (Photographs and more of last year’s ceremonies are at International Business Times.) Colorful Demera processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. (Learn more from Wikipedia and AllAfrica.) Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday. On Meskel, the people of Ethiopia attend religious services, gather with family, and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

How does Meskel taste, sound and feel? Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and the spiciest of hot peppers dazzle the plates mounded with food, as family honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from

Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences. (Toast your own cup to the coffee ceremony—or celebrate with family and friends—by learning more here.)


Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Rosh Hashanah 5775: Jewish families begin the High Holidays

Buckets of red and green apples

Apples, often dipped in honey, are common fare for Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Mike, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of the Jewish High Holidays, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other new stories for Rosh Hashanah:



Man in white garments with dark vest holds shofar above his head

A man holds a shofar. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24—Rosh Hashanah is one of four “new years” in the Jewish calendar. (Our civil calendar has several new years, too, including: a school year, a tax year, a calendar year and others.) The Jewish calendar counts years from Rosh Hashanah, even though the Torah says this festival is “the first day of the seventh month” (Num. 29:1).

Monarchies count regnal years from the monarch’s accession—1 James, 2 James, and so on. In the same way, the Jewish calendar counts years from the time of creation, when God became sovereign of the created universe. We declare that “Today is the birthday of the world.” On the evening of September 24, by traditional Jewish numbering, we begin the year 5775.

In the Torah, this holiday is a time of “teru’ah” (Lev 23:24; Num 29:21), which today refers to a musical note blown on the shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn. Our liturgy celebrates three concepts of the day: God’s sovereignty, God’s “memory,” and the shofar blasts. It’s as if we renew our loyalty to our sovereign God with a noisy coronation parade, confident that our omniscient ruler will dispense perfect justice.

This is good news for anyone free of “undivulged crimes / Unwhipped of justice” (King Lear, III:ii); the rest of us have reason to tremble as we reflect on our personal and communal failings of the past year. The Torah mentions God’s “book” (Ex 32:31-32) of people who are free from sin. Our liturgy builds on this image and we pray for the ability to repent and be forgiven for our failings and to be inscribed in the “book of life.”

The traditional greeting, Leshanah tovah tikatevu vetechatemu (may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year) starts the year with plural passive subjunctive verbs, displaying our command of Hebrew grammar.



SUNSET WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24—Tonight through Yom Kippur, Jews will observe the Days of Awe, asking and granting forgiveness and repenting sins. This period also is commonly referred to as the Jewish High Holidays. There are variances throughout the season, depending on each individual’s approach to Jewish observance and to other factors, including a family’s ethnic origin. There are Jewish communities with long histories in many parts of the world. (Learn more from Jewish Virtual Library and Wikipedia.)

Greet the New Year 5775 with crisp harvest apples, sweet honey and fresh figs. In addition to our own FeedTheSpirit column, with a link above, more recipe ideas are at Newsday, and Eating Well.

Looking for a healthier adaption of traditional recipes? Learn tips and tricks from this article in JWeekly, where a mom melds generational recipes and her family’s healthy eating habits.

In the News: Popular Jewish a cappella group the Maccabeats recently released its newest music video, entitled Home, shot against scenes in Jerusalem. Known for its style of mixing original lyrics with the lyrics of other popular artists, this video features sounds from One Direction, Andy Grammar, Daughtry, Diddy and Phillip Phillips. Check out their video here.


The folks at Four Corners of the Earth, who among other things are working with a small Jewish community in Ghana, produced this brief video featuring a visitor who tries to blow the shofar and a little boy from the village in Ghana who obviously has a talent for it. Enjoy!

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Autumnal Equinox: Pagans, Wiccans observe event with Mabon and Ostara

Table set with candles, rocks, herbs, Wiccan symbols and stars

An altar set for Mabon. Photo in public domain

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: The autumnal equinox ushers in equal day and night around the globe, and for Pagans and Wiccans, this celestial event brings Mabon—the second harvest festival. As the Earth’s subsolar point crosses the Equator, the planet begins moving southward, increasing darkness in the Northern Hemisphere and light in the Southern Hemisphere. Wiccans use Mabon (or Ostara, in the Southern Hemisphere) as an opportunity for thanksgiving: to welcome the impending dark, to give thanks for the long hours of sunlight of summer and to rejoice in the current bountiful harvest. Spicy mulled wines, crisp apples and warming cider are offered and consumed.

Did you know? Mabon is the name of a god from Welsh mythology.

In the agricultural societies of centuries past, autumn meant gathering together after the long, laborious hours of summer planting. Though fewer families now spend the summer planting, tending and gathering, autumn can still be a time of winding down and reflecting. Wiccans recognize the aging Goddess and spend ample time in nature.

Make it! Apple dolls and Mabon cider: Anyone can celebrate the season (and its produce) with this craft—applehead dolls, complete with intricate features and explained at Martha Brew up some Mabon cider with the easy-to-follow recipe found here.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Patriot Day: Americans remember 2,977 lives lost on September 11, 2001

President Barack Obama bows head in front of three American flags on poles

President Barack Obama bows his head during a memorial prayer on September 11, 2013. Photo in public domain

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Remember the lives lost and the loved ones still mourning on 9/11, or Patriot Day—the day designated to recall the tragic events in the United States that took place on September 11, 2001. Each year, memorials across the country pay tribute to the 2,977 who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 2001. Though the day was originally called Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, a shorter name—Patriot Day—soon took favor. A resolution introduced in October of 2001 decreed that each President should designate September 11, of each year, as “Patriot Day,” and it was signed into law that December. Nationwide, a moment of silence is observed at 8:46 a.m. EDT. (Wikipedia has details.)

Learn more about the 9/11 Memorial, or plan a visit to the site, by visiting here.

Red rose on black granite with names etched on it, skyscrapers in back

A rose at the memorial of Tower One of the World Trade Center. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


‘National Days of Prayer and Remembrance,’ this year, was declared by the White House as September 5, 6 and 7—the weekend prior to Patriot Day. The 2014 proclamation for the observance was posted on September 4 this year.

This year, CNN reports on a fireman’s bracelet found after prayer—read the story of the woman who found it, along with her emotional visit to the fireman’s family, here.

Boston’s 9/11 memorial is degenerating rapidly, the Boston Globe reports, causing questioning over maintenance measures. Read the story here.

Plan prayer and personalized tributes for 9/11 with suggestions from and

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Ethiopians and Rastafari mark Enkutatash, New Year, 40th anniversary

Dark-skinned boy holding out orange flower  with yellow flowers in background

An Ethiopian New Year card. Photo courtesy of the International Livestock Research Institute and Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Harvest and autumn themes take center stage in many September holidays and celebrations, but in Ethiopia, the opposite is true: Today is Enkutatash, the first day of the Ethiopian New Year and the end of the rainy season. Flowers are bursting into bloom in the fields, and young children gather bouquets to bring to friends. Enkutatash typically begins in church and leads to traditional shared meals, the exchange of New Year’s songs and greetings. (Wikipedia has details.) Many Ethiopians recall, today, the return of the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem.

Did you know? The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which was fixed to the Julian calendar in 25 BCE. The New Year date is August 29 on the Julian calendar—which, given the current 13-day gap between calendars—pegs Enkutatash as September 11 on the Gregorian calendar.

Beyond Ethiopia, many families around the world have begun marking Enkutatash. The Ethiopian African Millennium Group promoted a massive festival in 2007, and large celebrations have taken place in Washington, San Jose and Seattle. Long before the Western festivals for Enkutatash, though, the Rastafari—ardent believers in late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as the Messiah—have marked this event, with Nyabinghi drumming sessions, shared meals and joy.

Hungry? Try an easy-to-follow recipe for traditional Enkutatash wat (stew), courtesy of In Culture Parent.


Rastafari and Ethiopians may note tomorrow’s 40th anniversary of the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie, by the Dergue junta. On September 12, 1974, reformist officers toppled the monarchy that had ruled Ethiopia for centuries. Emperor Haile Selassie—nicknamed Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings—could trace his lineage back thousands of years, to (many believe) the Queen of Sheba. The final emperor of Ethiopia had ruled 26 million subjects and gained the worship of growing numbers of Rastafari—many of whom still believe today.

Comments: (0)
Categories: AnniversaryRastafari

Sing along with our Star-Spangled Banner bicentennial celebration

Baltimore Star Spangled 200 websiteSEPTEMBER 10-16, 2014—That’s the Baltimore-area Star-Spangled Spectacular event, which some Baltimore officials are predicting will be the largest single tourism event in the city’s history. A Washington Times news story reports: “Tall ships, Navy gray hulls and the high-flying Blue Angels will come to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to commemorate the birthplace and bicentennial of The Star-Spangled Banner. Many of the museums, historic sites and restaurants are also showcasing exhibits and deals during the Spectacular.”

Logo for Star Spangled Music Day 2014SEPTEMBER 12, 2014—That’s Star-Spangled Music Day, promoted by a wide array of allies including The Star-Spangled Music Foundation, The American Choral Directors Association, America Sings, Resounding Joy and many others. Schools across the nation are asked to hold their own birthday events to honor “The Star-Spangled Banner” and to share these efforts using the hashtag #Anthem200. Here are all the details you’ll need to participate.

READ MORE: At ReadTheSpirit, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker has written extensively about the 200-year history of our national anthem in his OurValues series.


Star Spangled Banner sheet music

DETAIL FROM an 1814 copy of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Note the melody is identified as “Anacreon in Heaven.” This was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music. Copies such as these were sold from a catalog of Thomas Carr’s Carr Music Store in Baltimore. Currently this is one of only ten copies known to exist, and is housed in the Library of Congress.

Most Americans are a bit fuzzy about what happened in September 1814, toward the end of America’s War of 1812 with Great Britain. Wikipedia has an exhaustive chronology as well as historical images.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. Because they had heard those plans, the British made them captives.

During the September 12-15 British attack on Baltimore, Key had a ring-side seat to watch the bombardment. The British HMS Erebus provided the “rockets’ red glare” and HMS Meteor provided at least some of the “bombs bursting in air.” Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort.

Aboard ship, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on September 16, he was released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law Judge Joseph H. Nicholson who matched the poem to the melody of a tune popular in gentlemen’s clubs. So, yes, the original melody was a “drinking song.” One version of the new song was printed September 17. Newspapers began printing it by September 20. More newspapers and magazines followed throughout the autumn of 1814.


University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker has written extensively about The Star-Spangled Banner, it’s evolution over the past 200 years—and the American values embodied in the singing of that song …

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Eastern and Western Christians observe Birth of Mary, Nativity of Theotokos

“It’s Blessed Virgin’s Birthday,
The swallows do depart;
Far to the South they fly away,
And sadness fills my heart.
But after snow and ice and rain
They will in March return again.”
An Austrian children’s rhyme, for September 8

Painting of women in fancy room, gathered around woman with young baby, one woman pouring water into a bowl

Birth of Mary, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1486-1490 CE. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8: Most of the world’s 2 billion Christians rejoice today in recalling the birth of Mary. In traditional Catholic and Orthodox teaching, Mary is regarded as a figure foretold in passages as ancient as Genesis. And this holiday is known as the Birth of the Virgin Mary among Western Christians, as well as the Nativity of the Theotokos among Eastern Christians.

Though the Bible contains no record of Mary’s birth, the Protoevangelium of James—an apocryphal writing from the second century—describes Mary’s birth, as well as the story of her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. (Learn more from Catholic Culture and Fish Eaters.) Accounts detail that St. Anne and St. Joachim, though faithful and pious, were without children. Anne and Joachim prayed for a child; though older, they conceived a child, whom they would call Mary. Tradition tells that Mary was born in Jerusalem.

Did you know? The birth of Mary also is included in the Quran. She is a major figure in Islam. (Wikipedia has more about Mary in Islam.)

The feast for Mary’s Nativity originated in Jerusalem, in the fifth century, and records point next to Syria and other parts of ancient Palestine, both of which were observing a feast for Mary’s birth by the sixth century. By the end of the seventh century, the feast was accepted by the Roman Church, and it slowly spread through Europe. By the 12th century, Mary’s birth was observed in all Christian countries. (Get the Eastern Orthodox perspective from Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.)

The Christian Church marks most saints’ feasts on the date of their death, or return to God. To this rule, there are three exceptions: Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist, as they are recognized in the Church on both their death date and their birth date.


In the wine-growing regions of France, Mary’s birthday is affectionately called “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest,” when the best grapes are brought to the local church for blessings and bunches of grapes are tied onto the hands of Mary statues. In the Alps, September 8 begins “down-driving,” when cattle and sheep are led from their summer pastures, down the mountain slopes, to their winter residence in the valleys and stables. In several regions of central and eastern Europe, the Feast of Mary is associated with harvest, fall planting and thanksgiving.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian