As the holiday season is coming up, many students are getting ready for their various religious holidays. Everyone hears about different religious holidays, but not many people actually know about the meanings behind each festivity. However, in order to build our understanding of each other, it can be beneficial to learn the extensive background that each religious holiday offers.
As major religions span across multiple countries and continents, some traditions vary. In order to be brief, most of the religious traditions will be generalized, unless said otherwise.
Passover is one of the most widely observed holidays in Judaism. It is used as a way to commemorate the exodus from Egypt. The story goes that God commands Moses to return to Egypt in order to free Jewish people. When the Egyptian Pharaoh denies Moses requests, God sends an avenging angel to wreck Egypt with the ten plagues. The plagues all culminated to an angel being sent to kill the first born son of each family. According to junior Carter Alturda, Jewish families “would put goat’s blood on their door and then the executioner would pass over.” The term pass over comes from the act of the angel passing over Jewish homes.
Every year, Alturda’s family celebrates Passover with a five hour seder, which is a tradition that involves telling stories, drinking wine, and eating food. Families read from “the Book of Passover with four different sections and each has a prayer,” said Alturda.
Rosh Hashanah is the new year, taking place in the seventh day of the Hebrew calendar. It celebrates the creation of the world and starts a ten-day period of reflection that ends with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Many people spend the day in the synagogue, with services that include liturgical texts and songs.
Alturda grew up with the belief that it is important to question everything. Therefore, his family uses this day as a time to “celebrate beliefs that you have and eat a lot of food.”
In Judaism, Yom Kippur is believed to be the time when God seals the Books of Life and Death for the next year. This is considered to be the most important day of Judaism. This means that God decides the fate of everyone for the new year, so people use this day to repent for sins committed in the previous year. Yom Kippur is a day to separate from the human world and fully express devotion towards God. In order to do this, many Jewish people start fasting the night before, and ending the night of Yom Kippur. Some people also refrain from wearing leather, as it was once seen as a sign of luxury. According to Alturda, “We pray for what we want to do for the new year and eat a big meal.”
A large part of the way Alturda celebrates the holidays is food. On these holidays, his family eats horseradish, which is known as the bitter herb, to commemorate the people who walked through the desert. But, his favorite food to eat is seven layer cake, which is a tradition among Jewish people in New York.
Alturda believes that it’s important to be more understanding about other religions because “it’s the most ignored injustice in America.” As anti-semisitism is rising once again in America, Altruda notes that hearing the Neo-Nazi chants of “Jews will not replace us” is hurtful, because Judaism is a large part of his identity. Anti-semitic attacks have been thrown at Jewish people for centuries and Alturda said “Once they find that one part of our lives, it’s game over for a lot of us.”
Muslim holidays are based on the Islamic calendar, so in the holidays seem to move every year when using the Gregorian calendar, which is the universal calendar. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar phases. Since that varies in different parts of the world, some people might decide to follow Saudi Arabia because of Mecca, but most people follow the certain country that they live in. This means that some of these holidays might be celebrated on different days, depending on where someone lives in the world.
Senior Adja Traore believes that the first and foremost important component of a successful holiday is peace. “At first we should have peace because we cannot have a holiday with fighting inside of us or hypocrisy,” said Traore. Close behind is the need to spend time around family. Luckily for Traore, the holidays she celebrates have a large familial role.
Eid al Fitr, which is referred to as Korite in Senegal (Traore’s home country), is the day that celebrates the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting dedicated to personal reflection. Eid al Fitr usually starts with a prayer in the morning followed by a meal surrounded by family, and a gift of money. In Traore’s family, they host other members of their family from other countries even if they are not Muslim. “They come during this even if they are are not Muslim and we celebrate it together,” explained Traore. Traore said that her family members can go a long time without seeing each other and holidays give them the time to spend time together.
In Senegal, Traore gets the day before, the day of, and the day after Eid off. This is common in Muslim majority countries as the majority of their citizens are celebrating the holiday, and need to take time off to pray and spend time with families.
One of the other main holidays is Eid al-Adha, which is known as Tabaski in Senegal, and directly translates to the Feast of the Sacrifice. Eid al-Adha takes place in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. The celebrations start on the second day of the Hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca that every capable Muslim is expected to take once in their life. Some families celebrate the holiday by sending an animal to be sacrificed at a butcher shop and then eating it with their family and sharing with the community. If people choose not to sacrifice an animal, they may donate to the poor.
Eid al-Adha is Traore’s favorite holiday “and the biggest one because we have to kill a lot of sheep.” In order to feed everyone in her large family, they need to kill around twenty sheep. Since it takes a long time to cook the sheep, they usually eat from 4pm to 7pm, with a little serving of porridge beforehand.
Milad un Nabi, called Gamou in Senegal, celebrates the birth of the prophet Muhammad in the third month of the Islamic calendar. Families and friends get together to read the story of his childhood and life, and it is also celebrated by eating sweets. Traore said that her family “spends one night reading the holy book until the sun rises.” As it can be seen, many of these holidays are full of joviality and family.
While it’s not exactly a holiday, Ramadan is probably the first thing that many people talk about when they hear about Muslim holidays. Ramadan lasts for the full month of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is believed that during this month, God revealed the first sacred text of the Quran to Mohammed. During the day, people who are capable abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sundown. However, Ramadan isn’t just about fasting. Muslims all over the world use this as a time to spend time with family, reflect on their relationship to God, and donate to charities.
This will be Traore’s first year fasting in the United States, in some instances, she is sure that the month will go by easier. “Where I live in Senegal, it’s extremely warm and you have to fast, so that will be amazing to do in the US because the weather is so amazing,” said Traore.
On the other hand, Traore is concerned about people eating in front of her. In Muslim majority countries, people who can eat generally do so in private, so that they’re not disrespectful towards anyone else. This is concerning to Traore because it might make fasting a little bit harder. “Here, I will see tons of people eating food in front of me,” said Traore.
When Senior Joann Lu celebrates holidays with her family, they focus on “being together and spending time with one another,” said Lu.
Christmas is usually the holiday that people first think of when someone mentions major Christain holidays. While people usually associate it with gift giving, Christmas trees, and lights, it has a deeper meaning. Throughout history, before Jesus, Europeans celebrated the Winter Solstice around the same time. For example, Norse celebrated Yule to welcome the end of a harsh winter. Now, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, even if his actual birth date is disputed.
Lu’s family usually spends Christmas in a different way compared to other Christians. “We don’t really buy gifts, or have a Christmas wish list because for our family that’s not what we believe it to be,” said Lu. Like many other families, Lu’s family centers the day around the closeness that they feel among each other.
While Christmas is dedicated to the birth of Jesus, Christians use Easter and Good Friday as a way to acknowledge his sacrifice for humanity and his eventual resurrection. The dates of Good Friday and Easter vary every year, but they take place in April. It’s frequently joked about why it’s called “Good Friday” when it’s the day that Jesus was crucified, but there may be an explanation behind it. Some historians believe that the “good” in the name came from an earlier name of “God Friday.”
Easter, which directly follows Good Friday on the following Sunday, is dedicated to the resurrection of Jesus. It is also the end of Lent, a 40-day period where Christians give something up, usually sweets or vices. Some churches start the observation of Easter the night before, on Holy Saturday. For Lu, these holidays hold a special place in her heart. “The holidays for us means being with each other while giving thanks to Jesus who died on the cross for our sins as well as just being grateful for what we have,” said Lu.
Throughout the years, as Lu has celebrated these holidays, she has gained a deeper understanding of her faith. “ I’ve become more rooted in my faith and I’ve seen the personal growth when it came to putting my faith in Jesus. I’m grateful for what he did for me and everyone I love and is continuing to do so, and that’s why the holidays are important for me,” said Lu.
There are many Hindu holidays, but Holi, Navaratri, and Diwali are usually seen as the three major holidays. Each celebration is filled with life and focused on the betterment of oneself.
Holi is the celebration dedicated to the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It has been around for several centuries, but over the years, the meaning has changed. It was previously dedicated to a rite that married women would perform in order to wish for the wellbeing of their families.
The holiday follows the story of Holika, Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu, and Prahalad. According to the story, Lord Vishnu had Hiranyakashipu’s brother assassinated, and along with seeking revenge, he wanted to rule the underworld. He started to gain power and some of his followers started rejecting the other gods, but Prahalad, his son, believed that the rightful deity was Vishnu. In order to defeat Hiranyakashipu, Prahalad used his sister, Holika who was immune to fire. When he emerged from her arms unscathed, she burned to ash and he was able to kill Hiranyakashipu. Today, actors reenact this scene in order to commemorate the burning away of evil.
According to senior Avani Shingari, it is celebrated by playing with colors and “people also make bonfires to symbolize the power of devotion and the removal of the impurities of the heart.”
Navaratri is a ten day holiday that ends on Dussehra. Depending on the region, the ten day event is celebrated in different ways, but it usually dedicated to the goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati. People observing the holiday spend the first three days removing bad thoughts, the next three days replacing them with good thoughts and actions, and the next three days gaining new knowledge. Shingari explains that the last day, Dussehra, “symbolizes the victory of good over evil” when Durga defeated Mahishasura, a buffalo-headed demon. This period also includes an abundance of concerts, plays, and gifts.
Diwali, the Festival of Lights, may vary depending on the region in India, but a general theme is the difference between light and darkness, and knowledge and ignorance. Shingari says that “when the lights are lit, the light of knowledge overpowers the darkness of ignorance and ego.”
When Shingari celebrates the holidays, she does so with firecrackers and food, which is a common occurrence around the world. Many Hindus in India celebrate Diwali by setting off fireworks with their own families. While food is specific to each region, Shingari enjoys eating Puran Poli and Shrikhand, which is a flatbread and a sweet dessert respectively.
Sources for protests
Hong Kong https://flickr.com/photos/studiokanu/48108527873/