Holi: Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and revelers worldwide welcome spring in vibrant color

Colored powders in air, crowd below

Holi festival in Spanish Fork, Utah, at the Sri Radha Krishna Temple. Photo by Steven Gerner, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MARCH 2: Shouts ring through the streets as colored powders fill the air: It’s Holi!

In India today and around the globe, the thrilling Hindu festival of Holi is in full swing. Termed the “Festival of Colours,” Holi calls all participants to set aside castes and manners for the day so that young and old, rich and poor, men and women can all gather to welcome the joy of spring.

HOLI EVE: HOLIKA DAHAN

Holi unofficially begins on Holi eve, in a ritual of burning bonfires to commemorate the legend of Prahlad. According to legend, Prahad miraculously escaped a fire when the Demoness Holika carried him in; Hindus believe Prahlad emerged with not even a scratch, due to his devotion to the deity Vishnu. The scores of Holika bonfires serve as reminder of the victory of good over evil and, in some regions, effigies of the demoness are burnt in the fires.

Songs are sung in high pitch around the bonfire, accompanied by traditional dances. After a frivolous night, celebrants wake early the next morning for a day of carefree fun.

KRISHNA AND HOLI, LOVE AND SPRINGTIME

Hand with colored powder

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Krishna is the primary deity 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, as winter’s neutrality makes way for the colorful essence of spring during this beloved holiday.

A demand for organic, healthy Holi colors has spurred a new trend in recent years, and more companies and organizations are working with recycled flowers, vegetables and natural powders. Long ago, Holi’s powders were made with clay, flowers and dried vegetables, but in recent decades, synthetic powders (that contain lead, asbestos and other toxic substances) were used, as they were widely available and inexpensive. Though convenient to buy, the synthetic powders have caused widespread environmental and health concern. Regulations are still underway, but experts anticipate that the demands of young generations will someday be satisfied with a healthier, “greener” Holi.

KING OF HOLI: In Barsana, in India, courting takes on a new twist as men sing provocative songs to women and the women literally beat the men away with sticks (don’t worry—the men carry shields to protect themselves). In Western India, pots of buttermilk are hung high above the streets in symbolism of the pranks of Lord Krishna, and crowds of boys compete to build human pyramids and reach the top pot. The boy who reaches the pot is crowned King of Holi.

SIKHS & HOLA MOHALLA

Sikhs turn to a different festival during the time of Holi: 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. 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.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Faiths of IndiaSikh

Nineteen-day Fast: Bahai’s prepare for the new year during holy month of Ala

White intricate designs in temple

A portion of the Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Ill. Photo courtesy of pxhere

SUNSET THURSDAY, MARCH 1: Followers of the Baha’i faith have just celebrated the joyous Ayyam-i-Ha, a special period that aligns their annual calendar, and today begins the Nineteen-day Fast: a fast in preparation for the Baha’i New Year. As each month in the Baha’i calendar contains 19 days, today begins the month of Ala, which immediately precedes the start of spring and the start of the Baha’i calendar year.

AYYAM-I-HA: Sacred days “outside of time” were observed by members of the Baha’i faith as the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days. These “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

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. 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.

Note: As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i Universal House of Justice declared that Naw-Ruz (New Year) falls on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

INTERCALATION AND THE MONTH OF ALA

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. Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Baha'i

Purim: Jews masquerade, celebrate Esther and victory

Two plates of triangular-shaped, jelly-filled pastries

These pastries, called “Haman’s pockets,” are a popular treat for Purim. Photo by xeno4ka, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 28: Eat! Drink! Be merry!

The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible. 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. Interestingly, 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.

ESTHER, MORDECAI AND AHASUERUS: THE STORY

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.

The 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. 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.

Popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick, who penned This Jewish Life with real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar, describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim this way:

“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.”

OBLIGATIONS AND HAMENTASCHEN

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.

The signature treat for this holiday is Hamentaschen, or Hamantash: 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.

EXTRA RECIPES: 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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Valentine’s Day: Share love, chocolates and prayer, as Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day collide

Heart in spoon top of pink mug with drink

Photo courtesy of Pexels

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Love letters, cards, chocolates and red-and-pink décor abound as Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. Just be careful not to indulge in sweet treats today if you’re one of the world’s 2 billion Western Christians: Though St. Valentine is recognized as a saint in the church, Ash Wednesday’s fasting and penitence takes precedence, church leaders are saying. So tell your loved ones how you feel, instead: “That’s amore!” An Italian greeting might be appropriate in honor of the feast day for this ancient Roman-Christian martyr known as St. Valentine.

Looking for a Christian twist on Valentine’s greetings? Get inspiration for a DIY card from Solomon’s Canticle of Canticles, a book that uses marital love as a metaphor for God’s love for the Church.

VALENTINE: HISTORY & LEGEND

Hearts hanging light behind

Photo courtesy of Pexels

The history of the saint behind this holiday is mysterious, indeed, and parts of the story are more legend than documented fact. For that reason, in 1969, the Vatican removed St. Valentine from the “General Roman Calendar,” the official registry of saints and their feast days. However, this saint is so beloved that Catholics are free to observe feast days locally and regionally—and millions do so every year.

The problem is that “Valentine” was a popular name in the 3rd Century—and for many years after that. At least two, and most likely several, Valentines were early Christian martyrs. By the 6th Century, Christian leaders were blending their stories into a single heroic tale.

Usually, Valentine is described as a courageous and brilliant defender of Christianity, as a compassionate man who tried to help men and women who were endangered during the period of Roman persecution—and as a priest who performed Christian marriages, including weddings for Roman soldiers and their wives at a time when that practice was illegal. According to legend, Valentine was such a striking figure that Roman Emperor Claudius II personally interrogated him, a practice that would have been quite rare in the Roman court. As the story goes, Valentine refused to recant his faith; the emperor refused to budge; Valentine performed a couple of final miracles (including healing his jailer’s daughter)—and Valentine was killed on February 14.

CHAUCER: CUE THE ROMANCE

The earliest known association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382 CE), written for the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. One of the earliest valentine messages still in existence is a 15th-century poem written by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was being held in the Tower of London.

By 1797, valentines were becoming so popular that a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, full of suggestions for verses in valentine greetings. Cards with verses were already being printed at the time of the Valentine Writer, and numbers of mailed valentines began to soar. By 18th-century England, lovers were exchanging flowers and sweets along with greetings. Today, it’s estimated that average Valentine’s Day spending is upward of $100 per person.

CRAFTS & RECIPES

Gifts may be a nice gesture, but Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to cost a fortune—especially with the DIY ideas from Martha Stewart, DIY Network and Real Simple.

Kids can craft Valentine’s Day greetings with help from Disney’s Family Fun.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Ash Wednesday: Christians fast, repent and begin Lenten season 2018

Icebreaker!

If you know someone from the Western Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you observe Ash Wednesday and Lent? How does your family mark the occasion?

 

Girl holding sign, 'Ashes here,' on busy city street

Congregations across the nation are taking to the streets, offering ashes on-the-go to busy Christians. Photo by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: The pancakes, paczkis, blintzes—and, for those who thought ahead, Valentine’s Day treats—have been eaten, and today, the solemn Lenten season begins for Western Christians—on Ash Wednesday. Starting today, Christians observe the 40 days of Lent (excluding Sundays) in preparation for Easter, in representation of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. On Ash Wednesday, able adults fast, and all able Christians abstain from meat and practice repentance. Records indicate that from the earliest centuries, the days preceding Jesus Christ’s death were filled with a solemnity of fasting and penitence.

Did you know? The Catholic Church permits ashes on the forehead for anyone who wishes to receive them—not just baptized Catholics. Many Protestant and Anglican churches also include this rite at the start of Lent and more congregations add the service each year.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians recall their mortality and express sorrow for sins. Traditionally, palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned into ashes for Ash Wednesday services, and the ashes are then blessed; however, many churches today now conduct these services using ashes purchased from religious-supply companies. The custom of clergy placing ashes upon the foreheads of the faithful is rooted in the practice of doing so as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. Rather than wash the ashes, recipients are supposed to let the ashes wear off throughout the remainder of the day, as part of their spiritual reflections. The practice of ashes is, generally, kept by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians.

FOR KIDS: Help children to better understand the purpose of Lent with Sacrifice Beans (learn more here). Alternatively, try a “Lent chain,” for which children create 40 pieces of paper inscribed with kind acts and prayers; each day of Lent, the children cut a link and perform the day’s act or prayer.

CLEAN MONDAY, VALENTINE’S & ASHES ON-THE-GO

Wooden number blocks 14 and February

This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke detail the story of Jesus spending 40 days fasting in the desert, where he is repeatedly tempted by Satan. Lent similarly marks 40 days—not counting Sundays. On Ash Wednesday, adult Catholics who are able practice fasting: only one full, non-meat meal throughout the day, along with two smaller meals that, combined, don’t equate in portion to the full meal.

VALENTINE’S DAY ADVISORY: Although Saint Valentine is a formally recognized saint in the Roman Catholic Church, many church leaders are relaying the necessity of keeping the day solemn—even though, for the first time since 1945, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday will fall on the same day. It is being recommended that Valentine’s celebrations in schools and at home be pushed to Fat Tuesday or a weekend day that precedes or follows February 14. (Read more in the Chicago Sun-Times, in the UK’s Catholic Herald Online and at Cleveland.com.

ASHES ON-THE-GO: Many Christians commemorate Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes on their foreheads—a tradition held since the Middle Ages—but in today’s busy world, more and more people may be unable to attend a weekday mass, and so congregations are heading to the streets or delivering ashes in “drive-thru” style. As congregations come up with new ideas to bring the church to the people, pastors and laypersons are visiting train stations, malls, public parks, coffee shops and college campuses to mark the foreheads of the faithful.

 CLEAN MONDAY: Eastern Orthodox Christians will start Great Lent just a few days after Western Christians do, this year, and in 2018, February 19 is Clean Monday—the start of the fasting period for Eastern Christians that prohibits meat, dairy and various other foods. Clean Monday—a public holiday in Greece—is commemorated with outdoor picnics, kite flying and shared family meals. (Find a recipe for Lagana Bread, a traditional Greek Clean Monday favorite, here.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Maha Shivaratri: Hindus fast, hold vigils and worship for the ‘Great Night of Shiva’

Icebreaker!

If you know someone from the Hindu tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Maha Shivaratri? How does your family mark the occasion?

 

Statue of blue Lord Shiva with one leg up under umbrella in middle of buildings

A figure of Lord Shiva. Photo by Rashi, courtesy of Skitterphoto

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Fasting and worship, temple visitations and ritual baths for Lord Shiva are followed by a nighttime vigil on Maha Shivaratri, a holiday observed across India and by Hindus around the world. On Maha Shivaratri, many Hindus believe that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava—the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Lord Shiva, a member of the Hindu Trinity, is associated with several legends and renowned as the model of an ideal husband.

LEGENDS, RITUALS—AND LORD SHIVA’S FAVORITE DAY

Hindus in India, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the world share stories as well as traditions on this renowned holiday. According to one legend, Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, were married on this day. As the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvatai is regarded as ideal, married women pray for the well-being of their husbands and single women pray that they will find a husband like Shiva. In another traditional story, Lord Shiva manifested in the form of a Linga on Maha Shivaratri, and thus the day is regarded as extremely auspicious. It’s believed that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri—Lord Shiva’s favorite day—will bring absolution of sins, neutrality of the mind and assistance in liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Did you know? Maha Shivaratri means “the Great Night of Shiva.”

As a time for “overcoming darkness and ignorance” devotees begin Maha Shivaratri early in the day. After a a ritual bath, many Hindus visit a temple, where they pray, make offerings, chant prayers and bathe figures of Shiva in milk, honey or water. Many devotees either fast or partake in only milk and fruit throughout the day, as they contemplate virtues such as forgiveness, honesty and self-discipline. As evening falls, worship to Lord Shiva continues, and hymns and devotional songs are sung to Shiva throughout the night.

A NEWSWORTHY TEMPLE: A Shiva destination that comprises 15 temples is being hailed as a “photographer’s delight” by one visitor, in a recent article in Telangana Today. On Maha Shivaratri, the typically quiet temple complex becomes a destination of much celebration, as Hindus from around the district arrive to worship Lord Shiva.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Fat Tuesday: Christians mark Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras with global traditions

If you know someone from the Western Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Fat Tuesday? Does your family have any favorite recipes for this day?

 

Plate of pancakes, stacked with red syrup and cherries on top

The tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, to clear cupboards of “indulgent” ingredients like butter, sugar and eggs, is centuries old. Photo by Einladung_Zum_Essen, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Pancake Day—all describe the massive celebration that takes place one day before the start of the Christian season of Lent, this year celebrated on February 13. Indulge to the hilt and maybe even give your Valentine some chocolates one day early—for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will fall on the same day, this year—on February 14. So empty those cupboards and refrigerators and dine on in sweet paczkis, delicate crepes, spongy pancakes and even a King Cake, before beginning the fast that begins the Western Christian Lenten season.

SHROVE TUESDAY, CARNE LEVARE & PANCAKES GALORE

King Cake with frosting drizzle and purple, yellow and green sugar granules on top

A Mardi Gras King Cake. Photo by Eric Wagner, courtesy of Flickr

For centuries, Christians have gathered their supply of sugar, butter, eggs and other rich foods on Fat Tuesday, cooking up an array of tempting treats and clearing the home of these foods in anticipation of Lenten fasting. In England, pancakes are topped with fruits and creams, cooking herbs and other savory flavors; in Poland and Lithuania, fried donuts and paczkis are more common. Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries, and in the United States—well, any number of these treats can be seen on Fat Tuesday.

Did you know? In the UK and Ireland, the week prior to Ash Wednesday is known as “Shrovetide,” ending on Shrove Tuesday and always involving pancakes. Shrove Tuesday is derived from the word shrive, which means, “to confess.”

Originally, Fat Tuesday (or, in French, Mardi Gras) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning, “to confess.” Tradition has it that Christians not only clear indulgence from their systems in a physical way on Fat Tuesday, but also clear themselves on a spiritual level, too. Confession has long been common on the day before Ash Wednesday, so that Lent may begin with a “clear plate.”

Bread & faith: Find an array of bread-based recipes, along with stories of the deep connection between baking together and and sharing various faith traditions, in the book Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

The popular Carnival associated with Mardi Gras, primarily celebrated in Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries, derives from carne levare, meaning “to take away flesh/meat.” Street processions abound in Brazil and Venice for Carnival.

PANCAKE RACES! In the United Kingdom, pancakes have been a part of Shrove Tuesday for so long that the day has all but been renamed “Pancake Day.” One of the longest-running pancake races has been held annually since 1445, in Olney at Buckinghamshire. One legend goes that a housewife was once so busy making pancakes that she lost track of time, and when she heard the church bells ringing, she ran out of the house still carrying her frying pan.

Gluten-free? Find a roundup of gluten-free pancake recipes, along with making everything from blintzes to Swedish pancakes, at Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

FROM GUMBO AND JAMBALAYA TO SEMLA BUNS: INTERNATIONAL RECIPES

An array of recipes from around the world can bring all of the day’s tastes to your table!

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian