Yom Kippur: Jews gather for ‘holiest day,’ the Day of Atonement

KIDS TAKE OVER THE HIGHWAYS—Lots of Yom Kippur photos of kids on bikes—riding along usually congested Israeli streets—have become some of the most popular social media images of the holiday. Years ago, there was more debate about whether this is appropriate. However, girls and boys younger than 13 are not obligated to observe the holiday as strictly as adults, so most Israelis have come to accept this kid-friendly festival of bikes as a part of the annual observance. (Photo shared via Wikimedia Commons by Udi Steinwell.)

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SUNSET TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8: From the hope-filled celebration of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Most Jews aged 13 and older try to complete a 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods of any kind. That extreme fast deepens each individual’s spiritual reflections and makes everyone across the community share in completing a difficult tradition.

Old manuscript of Jewish prayer

The Kol Nidrei prayer of Yom Kippur. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Between the two major holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—a period sometimes called the Days of Awe—Jews reflect on the past year and make amends for their failings. They look toward the balance of the new year 5780 (which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur) and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways.

YOM KIPPUR: THE HOLIEST DAY

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions. On Yom Kippur, all overflow seating areas are opened so that everyone in the Jewish community can show up for at least part of the long series of services.

Services open with Kol Nidre, a deeply emotional moment when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made, and the community symbolically opens itself to regular attendees as well as others who rarely come to services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, but overall, it represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

The rest of the Yom Kippur litugy also has beautiful moments that encourage repentance, recommitment to the faith’s ideals and remembrance of the core story that has led the Jewish people through thousands of years of challenges. Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to many men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur.

A PERSONAL REFLECTION FROM SUZY FARBMAN

Our beloved columnist Suzy Farbman, author of GodSigns, has written about her own personal practice at this holiday—which illustrates the mix of reflections on family and the larger world that come together on Yom Kippur:

Every year I touch base with Judaism at Yom Kippur services. I take our prayer books to Temple Beth El and have them signed by whichever family members join us. I look forward to acquiring a few more signatures each year.

Yom Kippur is a time to reflect on how we may have wronged God or others. I don’t think I have much to atone for, but each of us can do better and be better. Each of us can pray for a more peaceful world. The prayer I most look forward to at this time of year seems especially meaningful in light of recent worldwide unrest:

“Grant us peace, oh thou eternal source of peace, and enable Israel to be its messenger to the peoples of the earth. Bless our country, that it may always be a stronghold of peace, and its advocate among nations. May contentment reign within its borders, health and happiness within its homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship among the inhabitants of all lands, and may the love of your name hallow every home and every heart. Blessed is the Eternal God, the Source of peace.”

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Categories: Jewish

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi: Embrace pets, animals and nature

St. Francis of Assisi animals

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4: Take your pet to a church service!

Many congregations nationwide are holding pet blessings in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. What used to be a parade of rural farm animals down country lanes has evolved into preachers raising a hand over dogs, cats and hamsters; some pastors even travel to dog parks! But, note: Some blessings occur prior to the Oct. 4 feast day, while others are delayed until later in the calendar, so check your local listings.

Did you know? St. Francis of Assisi not only founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of St. Clare, but he also created the first Nativity scene—and received the first recorded stigmata!

Christians might not agree on the fate of pets, but St. Francis of Assisi went called animals his “brothers and sisters”; he insisted that they are an integral part of God’s creation.

ST FRANCIS: FROM WEALTH TO INTENTIONAL POVERTY

As with many famous saints, St. Francis’ life began in wealth. Born to a cloth merchant in Assisi in 1181, Francis lived in luxury until war called him away from home, in 1204. It was immediately following the war that Francis received a vision; he soon lost his desire for a worldly life and returned to Assisi as a peasant. Francis’ father disowned him for his choice to follow Christ, and the saint-to-be began both begging and preaching on the streets. Soon after, Francis created an order that would, in 10 years, number more than 5,000. St. Francis was canonized less than two years after his death.

ST. FRANCIS: ON ANIMALS, NATURE & THE ENVIRONMENT

Pet blessings

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Jesus Navarrete sprinkles a dog with holy water during the Blessing of Pets ceremony at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Photo by Senior Airman Aubrey White, courtesy of U.S. Air Force

St. Francis wasn’t the first to raise the question of animals in heaven—and he wasn’t the first to affirm his belief, either! (It’s a common theme in Psalms that all creatures of God, whether man or beast, have a duty to praise Him.) Nor was St. Francis the last to preach this message: although some evangelical Christians believe that our pets are barred from heaven, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was famous as an early advocate for humane treatment of animals. Wesley preached that we will see our pets in heaven. To this day, many Protestant and Anglican congregations offer St. Francis-themed blessings of animals.

St. Francis challenged everyone to protect nature: We are, after all, God’s stewards on earth. Legends about St. Francis paint a portrait of a man whose donkey wept upon his death; who blessed a wolf and commanded him to stop harming townspeople and their flocks; and who garnered rapt attention from birds when he told his companions that he would “preach to” his “sisters the birds.” It’s said that during his sermon, not one bird flew away.

AT HOME: ST. FRANCIS FOR FAMILIES

Whether you’re honoring St. Francis or your own pet today, there are plenty of activities to choose from! Those wishing to remember the saint can pray the Canticle of the Sun; learn more about the fantastic festival in Assisi today; or cook up an Italian feast. (Catholic Culture has additional ideas.) Aside from taking your pet for a walk or to a pet-blessing service, animal lovers can raise money for a local animal shelter; make Fido an herbal flea collar; or even take a lesson in pet communication. (TLC has more.)

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Categories: Christian

Rosh Hashanah: Jews celebrate “sweet” New Year, begin High Holidays

Honey and biscuits

Honey is eaten with various foods on Rosh Hashanah. Photo courtesy of Pixnio

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Rich dishes made with honey, paired with blasts from the shofar, mean it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—and it’s also the start of the High Holidays. Do you know someone who is Jewish? Wish him or her L’shanah tovah—“For a good year!”

On the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by Jews around the world. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year,” or “first of the year,” and many Jews use this period of time to make resolutions and commitments for self-improvement. Sins are “cast” into a river and honey is consumed for hopes of a sweet New Year.

NEWS: Jews of all ages have been making and finishing shofars prior to this year’s Rosh Hashanah, the Chicago Tribune reported. Read the article here.

On Rosh Hashanah, work is not permitted and many more traditional adherents spend the day in the synagogue. The shofar, a ram’s horn blown like a trumpet, is one of the holiday’s most famous symbols—but Rosh Hoshanah also comes with special readings and prayers for a good new year.

Traditionally, Jewish teaching associates Rosh Hashanah with the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and the day’s services focus on the relationship between G_d and humanity. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)

HONEY, APPLES AND BREAD: A SWEET NEW YEAR

Of the sweet foods consumed on Rosh Hashanah, none is more popular than honey. Jerusalem, biblically referred to as “the land of milk and honey,” is yet another reason to eat honey on this special holiday. Most Jews eat apples or bread dipped in honey, or create dishes that incorporates these ingredients.

tashlich, Rosh Hashanah

A tashlich ceremony in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Prayers near a body of water accompany the practice of tashlich, which is the “casting off” of sins. The faithful travel to flowing water and empty their pockets into the river, symbolically casting off their sins. Typically, small bits of bread are placed in the pockets before tashlich, and later “cast off” during the ritual.

What are the High Holidays? Sometimes referred to as “High Holidays,” or “High Holy Days,” this is the period of Hashanah and Yom Kippur and usually the phrase includes the 10 days in between. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the new year begins and finally, on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

EXTRAS: BRISKET AND HONEY

Fifteen traditions: Reader’s Digest reported 15 must-observe traditions for Rosh Hashanah this year.

Want to make a perfect brisket? It’s a holiday favorite in many Jewish homes, and FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis (with guest writer Debbi Eber) tackles the tips and techniques for a perfect brisket dinner.

Sweet recipes: Looking to bake up something sweet and scrumptious this Rosh Hashanah? Try the Jewish Chronicle’s honey cake trifle; Huffington Post’s 21 recipes with honey and apples; or forward.com’s granola baked apples. For an entire menu of Rosh Hashanah recipes, check out AllRecipes, Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

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Categories: Jewish

Navaratri: Hindus celebrate motherhood, femininity during nine-night festival

Navaratri temple India

The Gokarnanatheshwara Temple, in India, during Navaratri (on the eve of Dussehra). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Hindus begin the nine-night religious festival known as Sharad Navaratri (English spellings vary; the name often appears without the middle “a”), an ancient festival that emphasizes the motherhood of the divine and femininity. Each night during Navaratri, Hindus worship a different form or characteristic of the Mother Goddess Durga, who is regarded as being manifested in cosmic energy and power. In general, Sharad Navaratri is the celebration of good over evil, though many aspects of this tradition vary by region in India and around the world.

Did you know? Navaratri in its basic form takes place a number of times during the seasons of each year, but it’s Sharad Navaratri—this festival, at the beginning of autumn—that takes precedence over any other. Sharad Navaratri culminates on a final day known as Dussehra.

Legends related to this observance differ: Some indicate that Shiva gave permission to Durga to visit her mother for nine days, while others describe Durga’s victory following a nine-day battle with the demon Mahishasura. Life-size clay figures depicting this battle are commonly seen in temples during Navaratri. But there is a universal theme to this tradition, too: All Hindus aim for purity, avoiding meat, grains and alcohol—and usually installing a household pot that is kept lit for nine days. Some devotees fast, and others consume only milk and fruit for nine days.

SINGING AND DANCING IN THE STREETS

Navaratri brings out orchestras and community-wide singing in India: nighttime dances in the streets combine with bountiful feasts and shrines are elaborately decorated. In Saraswat Brahmin temples, statue figures are adorned with flowers, sandalwood paste and turmeric.

In some regions of India, it’s believed that one should try to envision the divinity in the tools used for daily life—whether books, computers or larger instruments—and decorate them with flowers and other adornments, in hopes of both humbling themselves and bringing auspiciousness upon the items that aid them in livelihood.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Michaelmas: Daisies, archangels and a feast for one ‘who is like God’

Michaelmas flowers daisies

The Michaelmas Daisy (Aster). Photo by Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojector, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Search for an Aster flower, make a blackberry crumble or bake a bannock today: It’s Michaelmas, the Christian feast for St. Michael the Archangel. Often depicted as a white-robed angel with his foot on a demon, St. Michael is seen as the warrior of God and, not surprisingly, has become the patron of soldiers, mariners and anyone going into battle. Autumn ushers in the darker half of the year, and by many Christians, St. Michael is prayerfully invoked for for extra protection.

WEEK-LONG GOOSE FEST: In Lewistown, Pennsylvania, today is known as Goose Day—and tourists now, ahem, flock to Lewistown for the occasion. Events are becoming so popular that many are expanding into the week preceding September 29 (read the full story in the Penn Live Patriot-News).

Beyond honoring St. Michael the Archangel, Michaelmas has taken on a seasonal association through the centuries, signaling the beginning of autumn: In the United Kingdom and Ireland, “Michaelmas” is the name of the first term of the academic year, while in Wales and England, “Michaelmas” is associated with one of four terms of the year in the courts.

ST. MICHAEL: FROM HEBREW SCRIPTURES TO THE GOLDEN LEGEND

St. Michael archangel stained glass

A stained glass depiction of St. Michael the Archangel. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

Christianity is split on how to regard “Archangels,” but generally seven are recognized in Christian tradition—and three of them are honored liturgically. Among these, St. Michael is the seen as the greatest of all the Archangels.

Did you know? In the 5th century, a basilica near Rome was built and dedicated to St. Michael on September 30, with celebrations starting the evening before; thus, September 29 became established as the feast day for the Archangel in the Western Christian Church.

Hebrew for “Who is like God,” Michael carried the victory over Lucifer in the war of heaven. Michael appears several times in the Hebrew scriptures and generally is seen as an advocate of Israel. Michael also is honored in Islam for his role in carrying out God’s plans.

The Golden Legend describes in great detail the battles of St. Michael, but none are to be as great as his final victory over the Antichrist. According to the Golden Legend, the Archangel Michael will slay the Antichrist on the Mount of Olivet.

Note: With the exception of Serbian Orthodox Christians, most Eastern Christians do not observe Michaelmas. The Greek Orthodox Church honors Archangels on November 8.

DAISIES, APPLES AND A BLACKBERRY LEGEND

As the Aster blooms around this time each year, it has slowly gained a new name: the Michaelmas Daisy. In every color from white to pink to purple, the Michaelmas Daisy is the original flower from which lovers pick petals and alternately chant, “S/he loves me, S/he loves me not.” Gardens in England and the United Kingdom still attract throngs of visitors around Michaelmas for their glorious displays of Michaelmas daisies.

With a date near the Equinox, Michaelmas soon became associated with livestock and hiring fairs, and many events in Scotland included processions and sports. Today, Michaelmas fairs continue in some parts of England, complete with music and dancing, art and delicious fare.

Geese were once plentiful on Michaelmas—as were autumn apples—and the most popular dish of Michaelmas has always been roast goose and apples. Side dishes and desserts vary by country, with the Irish making Michaelmas Pie and Scots baking St. Michael’s Bannock, a type of scone. (Get recipes and more from Catholic Culture and FishEaters.) As folklore suggests that blackberries may not be picked after Michaelmas—because Satan fell from heaven into/onto blackberry bushes—blackberry pies and crumbles remain a popular dish for Michaelmas.

Looking for more Michaelmas goose recipes? Try Food Network and AllRecipes.

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Categories: Christian

Meskel: Ethiopian Christian festival deemed a cultural heritage experience

Meskel activities in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Photo by Peter Chou Kee Liu, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: Across Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian communities, bonfires on the eve of Meskel remind families of an ancient story: the vivid dreams and forthcoming discovery of the true Cross by Queen Helena, in the fourth century. On Meskel, the faithful 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. (Watch a one-minute video of Meskel celebrations on YouTube.)

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.”

The traditional story tells that St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire. After adding incense, smoke rose high into the sky then returned to the ground to touch the precise spot where the true Cross was located. Then, a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

MESKEL: A UNIQUE CELEBRATION

Injera bread, Meskel

A basket of injera bread. Photo by Pen Waggener, courtesy of Flickr

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years. Although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, Ethiopians certainly enjoy the festival today. Colorful 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. 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.

Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and spicy hot peppers complement 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 Food.com.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

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Categories: Christian

Equinox, Mabon: Welcome autumn, harvest and the season of gratitude

Autumn foliage

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23: Take a deep breath of crisp, autumn air and savor the warm spices of the season, as Pagans celebrate Mabon and people around the Northern Hemisphere mark the autumnal equinox. For Pagans and Wiccans, Mabon is a type of Thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts of harvest; it is a time to seek blessings for the approaching winter months. Equinox, a celestial event, occurs twice per year and is so named because the length of day and night are (almost exactly) equal.

Did you know? The equinox phenomenon can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis, such as Saturn.

MABON: FROM CIDERS AND BREADS TO PINE CONES AND GOURDS

“Everything autumn” sums up the fare, symbols and activities of Mabon, as Pagans and Wiccans offer cider, wines and warming herbs and spices to gods and goddesses. Druids call this time Mea’n Fo’mhair, honoring the God of the Forest; Wiccans celebrate the Second Harvest Festival with altars, decorating them with pine cones, gourds, corn, apples and other autumn elements.

A time of mysteries, Wiccans recognize the aging of the goddess and visit ancestors’ graves, decorating them with leaves, acorns and other elements of fall. Tables are covered in feasts of breads, root vegetables and apple cider, as scents of cinnamon and nutmeg fill the air. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Families gather, and preparations are made for the coming winter months.

Looking for an autumn activity? Take a walk through the woods, while enjoying the bold colors of autumn; alternatively, make a horn of plenty that will grace the home through the season. Kids can create corn husk dolls (courtesy of Martha Stewart), and homes can smell like fall with the addition of scented pine cones (get a DIY here, from HGTV).

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan