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ZOROASTRIANISM | Zarthost No Deeso

26 December

At Zarthost No Deeso, Zoroastrians commemorate the death anniversary of the prophet Zoroaster (628 to 551 BCE), the founder of Zoroastrianism as a collective faith. The day is one of mourning, with special services taking place in agiaries (fire temples). These services include prayers, lectures and discussions about the life and works of the prophet.

A cobbler from the Bactria rivers in Central Asia, Zoroaster became a preacher of monotheism when he was thirty. A highly-regarded philosopher, mathematician, astrologer and magician and an expert composer of Yasna Haptanghaiti (Zoroastrian hymns) and Gathas (Zoroastrian poems), Zoroaster philosophised on the triumph of good over evil and the judgment of humans at the end of their life.

There is much debate over the cause of Zoroaster’s death. Some believe he was killed by the Turanian army at the altar of an agiary (fire temple), others that he was killed by a thunderbolt. Many believe that Zoroaster was not killed at all but instead ascended the skies by himself. Others think he simply died in his sleep.

For more information about Farthest No Deeso please click here

ZOROASTRIANISM | Zarthost No Deeso 2017-09-12T10:30:54+00:00

CHRISTIANITY | Christmas Day

25 December

The word “Christmas” comes from the old English Cristes maesse (the mass of Christ). At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who is worshipped as the son of God. Until the 4th century AD, the dates for Christmas were not fixed. As the Bible gave no indication of Christ’s official birthday, Christians were free to celebrate Christmas anytime from the beginning of January until the end of September. The first recorded date of the Christmas celebrations beginning on 25 December is 336 AD, during the rule of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. A few years later, Pope Julius I decreed that the birth of Jesus should henceforth be celebrated on 25 December each year.

Although Christmas Day is the focus of modern-day Christmas celebrations, it is actually the first of twelve days of Christmas. Each of the twelve days of Christmas is dedicated to a different Saint’s day. Traditionally, each and every one of the twelve days was celebrated. Save for the care of animals, all work was forbidden during the Christmas period, recommencing on Plough Monday – the first Monday after Twelfth Night. While all twelve days of Christmas had their own peculiar celebrations, not all of the days were celebrated equally. The three most important celebrations took place on the Saints’ Days of 25 December, and the 01 and 06 January. It was on these days that the most lavish feasts took place, with up to twenty-four courses being served in aristocratic households. Leftover food, of which there was lots, was used to feed the poor.

Today, the Christmas feast is still at the heart of Christmas Day celebrations, where roast turkey is considered the ‘traditional’ choice of meat. Surprisingly, turkey is not very traditional at all. In the Tudor and Elizabethan period, the roast of choice for wealthy families was generally swan, goose, peacock or wild boar. In fact, turkeys were not introduced into Britain until around 1523. Naturally, it soon featured on the table at one of Henry VIII’s Christmas banquets, sparking a new trend for Christmas turkey. So popular was this new Christmas bird, that soon large flocks of turkeys could be seen walking on foot to London from parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The journey was such an epic undertaking that the turkeys would begin their march to the Christmas table as early as August!

For more information about Christmas Day please click here

CHRISTIANITY | Christmas Day 2017-09-12T10:30:59+00:00

CHRISTIANITY | Christmas Eve

24 December

Denoting the end of the Advent Season, Christmas Eve is a time for getting together with families in preparation and anticipation of Christmas, which begins the next day. On Christmas Eve, families traditionally set up and decorate a Christmas Tree (usually a pine tree or a spruce tree, depending on the country and individual taste) in their homes and put up other festive decorations such as wreaths, garlands of evergreen foliage and berries, kissing boughs, mistletoe sprigs and pomanders. However, today many Christians choose to put up their Christmas decorations much earlier in December.

Churches often hold candlelight or Christingle services on Christmas Eve, many involving Christmas carols and a children’s performance of the nativity. Catholic churches hold Midnight Mass for worshippers to welcome in Christmas Day, while in Catholic homes the Christ Candle is lit to replace the Advent Wreath. The Christ Candle is then re-lit every night of the twelve days of Christmas.

Christmas Eve is also a time for families to rejoice, feast, play games and sing songs together. The modern-day Christmas is a particularly exciting time for children, who eagerly anticipate the arrival of Father Christmas and his reindeer-drawn sleigh full of gifts. Well, that’s if they’ve been good of course…

For more information about Christmas Eve please click here

CHRISTIANITY | Christmas Eve 2017-09-12T10:31:07+00:00

JUDAISM | Hanukkah

12 to 19 December

Beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev and continuing for eight days, Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. A time for Jews to reflect on their struggle for religious freedom, Hanukkah commemorates the victory of Jewish Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army in 167 to 160 BC.

In addition to their usual daily prayers, Jews light the candles of Menorah (sacred candelabra) in their homes. The Menorah has great symbolism for Jews. It represents light, wisdom, Divine inspiration, and the spread of Divine light throughout the world. The first Menorah was a seven-branched candelabra, forged from solid gold and kept as a sacred vessel in the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Here, the seven candles were ceremoniously lit each day by the High Priest. Sadly, the Holy Temple was lost to Judaism, along with the city of Jerusalem, in 1967. Today, Jews have a nine-stemmed Menorah in their homes which they light every evening during Hanukkah. Special blessings are recited before the Menorah is lit; three blessings on the first night and two on the subsequent nights. Once the candles have been lit, the Hanerot Halalu prayer is recited and a traditional hymn sung.

Other Hanukkah traditions include playing games with the dreidel (a spinning top inscribed with Hebrew letters) and the exchange of gifts of gelt (gold). These days, instead of giving gold Jews exchange gifts of cheques, saving bonds, money, or gold, foil-wrapped, chocolate coins.

For more information about Hanukkah please click here

JUDAISM | Hanukkah 2017-09-12T10:31:33+00:00

BUDDHISM | Bodhi Day

08 December

On Bodhi Day, Buddhists celebrate the awakening and enlightenment of Siddhartha, who became Buddha in the 6th century BC, after reflecting on the meaning of life while seated under the Bodhi Tree (the tree of awakening). Celebrations take place on Rōhatsu (‘eighth day of the twelfth month’ in Japanese), when Buddhists pray and meditate on the cycle of rebirth, the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths as Buddha once did. It is traditional for Buddhists to eat a meal of rice and milk to represent the first meal Buddha is believed to have eaten after achieving enlightenment.

Buddhists often decorate their homes with colourful decorations to symbolise the many different ways to achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment is further symbolised by the lighting of candles for thirty successive evenings. Another traditional decoration is three hanging ornaments of Buddha, Dharma and Shanga: these represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism. Bodhi is the name for the tree under which Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment; it is a type of fig tree, scientifically known as Ficus religiosa. To honour this, many Buddhists have a small Ficus at home, which they decorate with coloured lights and beads joined together with string to symbolise that all things in the world are united. An alternative to a living tree is to use a statue of a Bodhi Tree decorated with origami leaves or a small figurine of Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree.

For more information about Bodhi Day please click here

BUDDHISM | Bodhi Day 2017-09-12T10:31:28+00:00

CHRISTIANITY | Advent Sunday

03 December

In Western Christianity, Advent denotes the start of the Christian year, with the Advent season beginning on the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s Day (30 November) and continuing through to Christmas Day. The focus of the season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in his first Advent as well as the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his second Advent. It is also a time for Christians to reflect and prepare for the annual celebration of Christ’s birth, Christmas. Traditionally, this practice involved fasting or abstaining from foods such as meat and other animal products, but these restrictions have relaxed somewhat in recent years. In Eastern Christianity, a Nativity Fast takes place instead of Advent. This lasts for forty days, beginning on the day after the Feast of St Phillip the Apostle (14 November).

Advent Wreaths are used in churches and in some Christian homes. These consist of a ring of symbolic evergreen foliage and berries adorned with four red and purple candles. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, three on the third, and all four on the fourth. Some people include a fifth candle in the centre, which they light along with the other four candles on Christmas Day.

In many churches, a Christingle service is held for children on the first Sunday in Advent. Meaning ‘Christ Light’, a Christingle is an orange wrapped with a cross of red ribbon, studded with cloves and topped with a candle. Each part of the Christingle has special symbolism to help Christian children to understand the importance of Jesus and the Gospel. The orange represents the world, the red ribbon symbolises the love and blood of Christ, the dried cloves represent all of God’s creations, and the lit candle symbolises Christ’s light in the world, bringing hope to people living in darkness. During the evening Christingle service, the lights in the church are turned out and one candle lit. Symbolising the Light of Christ, this flame is then passed from candle to candle around the church congregation, who then process around the church with their illuminated Christingles.

For more information about Advent please click here

CHRISTIANITY | Advent Sunday 2017-09-12T10:31:40+00:00

Happy 174th Birthday to Gertrude Jekyll

Today is the 174th birthday of Gertrude Jekyll, one of Britain’s best known and best loved figures in British garden history. As Jekyll in the ancestor of the REEP Director’s husband, Richard McLaren, she has a special place in the hearts of REEP who dedicated this year’s international ‘Growing Gardeners’ conference to her.

In honour of Gertrude Jekyll’s birthday, here is a poster we produced about her for the ‘Growing Gardeners’ conference.

Gertrude Jekyll Poster 2017

Happy 174th Birthday to Gertrude Jekyll 2017-11-29T09:21:36+00:00

SIKHISM | Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Martyrdom Day

24 November

The ninth of the ten Gurus of the Sikh religion, Guru Tegh Bahadur was a martyr for religious freedom. On his Martyrdom Day, memorials are held in honour of the supreme sacrifice Guru Tegh Bahadur made to protect the right of all people to practice their beliefs without fear of persecution from other faiths. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s sacrifice is all the more significant because he was not protecting those of his own faith – he was protecting the rights of millions of Hindus.

Under pain of death, the peace-loving people of Kashmir were being ordered to convert to Islam by the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, who eschewed the religious tolerance of his predecessors in favour of a policy of religious persecution against non-Muslims. In 1675, in answer to an appeal by a large group of Kashmiri scholars, the Guru told them to “tell Aurangzeb that if he can convert Guru Tegh Bahadar to Islam, they will all convert. Otherwise he should leave them alone.” Excited at the prospect of converting so many people through just one man, Aurangzeb had the Guru and a number of his companions arrested. They were then taken to Delhi and instructed to convert to Islam under penalty of death.

Guru Tegh Bahadur declared that he would rather sacrifice his life than give up his faith or freedom. In an attempt to terrorise them into submission, Aurangzeb had the Guru tortured for five days. His companions were brutally murdered in front of him. Guru Tegh Bahadur was finally beheaded in the middle of a public square in Chandni Chowk, Delhi – the most prominent public place in India.

In commemoration of Guru Tegh Bahadar’s sacrifice, memorials are held every year on his Martyrdom Day. Although a Sikh holiday, Hindus and people of other faiths also take part in the festival, uniting with the Sikhs in veneration of religious freedom and the right to practice one’s own beliefs without fear of prosecution.

For more information about Guru Tech Bahadar’s Martyrdom Day please click here

SIKHISM | Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Martyrdom Day 2017-09-12T10:31:52+00:00

Museo Bellas Artes de Sevilla

Founded in 1839, Seville’s Museum of Fine Arts is home to a collection of works from medieval times through the early 20th century, notably a choice selection of works by Spanish artists from Seville’s Golden Age of painting, the 17th century. The buildings and beautiful cloister gardens within date back to the late 16th to early 17th centuries when they were built as a convent for the Order of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción. We hope to take our Scholars here to see the cloister gardens next year during the REEP McLaren Scholarship in Spain. 

For more information about Museo Bellas Artes visit http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/museos/MBASE/?lng=en

To see photos of my visit here, visit the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Museo Bellas Artes de Sevilla 2017-11-27T18:22:30+00:00

Centro Cerámica Triana

Converted from the old Santa Ana Ceramic Factory, Seville’s Ceramics Centre is designed to educate people about the long history of ceramic tile production in the Triana district. Visitors can see the old kilns and production materials of the Santa Ana Factory, as well as examples of ceramic tiles from Moorish times to the present day. We hope to take our Scholars here next year during the REEP McLaren Scholarship in Spain – maybe they’ll even get to try their hand at decorating ceramic tiles!

For more information about Centro Ceramica de Triana visit http://patrimoniumhispalense.com/es/espacio/centro-ceramica-triana

Photos of my visit here can be found on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Centro Cerámica Triana 2017-11-27T18:18:36+00:00

SHINTOISM | Kinrō Kansha No Hi

23 November

A public holiday in Japan since 1948 but celebrated for centuries before, Kinrō Kansha No Hi is the Labour Thanksgiving Day. In its earliest form, it was known as Niinamesai (Imperial Harvest Festival) – a day for the Imperial family to pay tribute and express gratitude for a generous harvest. Those who worked hard on the land to bring crops, especially rice, to fruition received special thanks from their communities. As the Japan of today is less dependent on agriculture, the festival has evolved to include an appreciation for all those who work hard, regardless of industry.

An alternative name for the festival is Hōnen Matsuri, with Hōnen meaning ‘rich harvest’ and Matsuri meaning ‘festival’. Many Japanese people visit a shrine on this day to give thanks for the successful harvest received that year and to pray to Kami (spirits) for a plentiful harvest next year. The harvest festival has a strong association with fertility and renewal. This is epitomised by the spring Hōnen Matsuri celebration at Tagata Shrine in Aichi prefecture, which includes a procession with a giant wooden phallus freshly carved from hinoki (cypress).

For more information about Kinrō Kansha No Hi please click here

SHINTOISM | Kinrō Kansha No Hi 2017-09-12T10:32:00+00:00

Monasterio de nuestra Señora Santa Maria de las Cuevas

On Inés’ recommendation, I visited another potential site for the 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholarship – Monasterio de nuestra Señora Santa Maria de las Cuevas. Better known as ‘la Cartuja’, this fascinating monastery began its life in Moorish times, when caves were dug in the area to extract clay to make pots. When an image of the Virgin was discovered here in 1248, a shrine was erected and named Virgen de la Cuevas (Virgin of the Caves). Rebuilt as a monastery in the 15th century, it was here that Christopher Columbus stayed to worship and plan his second voyage to the new world. During Spain’s Napoleonic invasion the monastery was abandoned, remaining so until the English merchant, Charles Pickman bought it and converted it into a ceramic-tile and porcelain factory. Pickman won many international prizes for his ceramics in the 19th-20th centuries and his designs are still held in great esteem today. Today, the monastery is home to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo (CAAC).

What a fascinating history and what a clever use of space too! Who would have thought that a tile factory could sit so attractively inside the buildings and patios of an old monastery!

For more information about the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo visit http://www.caac.es/english/frame.htm

For more on the history of the monastery visit http://www.andalucia.com/cities/seville/monasterio-la-cartuja.htm

Photos of my visit here can be found on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Monasterio de nuestra Señora Santa Maria de las Cuevas 2017-11-27T18:13:25+00:00

Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, Seville

Did you know that as well as being the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, Seville’s Cathedral de Santa Maria De La Sede started life as a Mosque? How wonderful to see Islamic and Christian styles together in one beautiful building – no wonder UNESCO have named it a World Heritage Site. Anyone familiar with Marrakech may find the Cathedral’s Giralda tower familiar – it was once a minaret identical to that of La Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. As if that wasn’t enough, inside Seville’s Cathedral is the tomb of the great explorer, Christopher Columbus. His tomb is held aloft by four figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during his lifetime. We hope to take our Scholars here next year during the REEP McLaren Scholarship in Spain.

For more information about Seville’s Cathedral visit www.catedraldesevilla.es

You can find photos of my visit here on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, Seville 2017-11-27T18:04:48+00:00

Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa

Our 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholars will be delighted to visit Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa when they are in Seville next year. Built for the Ibero-American Expo in 1929, the gorgeous plaza seamlessly mixes Renaissance, Mudéjar and Gothic styles of Sevillian architecture – the neighbouring Parque Maria Luisa is equally lovely.

For more information about Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa visit http://www.andalucia.com/cities/ seville/marialuisapark.htm 

You can find photos of my visit here on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa 2017-11-27T18:24:32+00:00

Palacio de Las Dueñas

This morning I visited another garden that we would like to take our REEP McLAREN Scholars to visit next year during the Scholarship in Spain – Palacio de Las Dueñas.

A Renaissance-style palace with Moorish and Gothic flourishes, the palace of Las Dueñas features Islamic-style ‘patios’ (courtyard gardens), divided into four with decorative tiled paths and fountains at their centre. The palace was built in the 15th-16th centuries, as the home of the Dukes of Alba. It became a popular meeting point for European royals and international personalities in the 20th century, including Queen Victoria Eugenia and Jackie Kennedy!

For more information about Palacio de Las Duenas visit http://www.lasduenas.es/

You can see photos of my visit to Las Dueñas on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Palacio de Las Dueñas 2017-11-27T17:51:27+00:00

Alcázar, Seville

As our 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholars will be studying faith gardens during their Scholarship in Spain, we simply have to include a visit to the Alcázar in Seville. I visited here for the first time today during my research trip to Spain.

Mudéjar and Christian architectural styles are united in this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage-listed Alcázar palace. Originally a 10th century fort, the Alcázar was enlarged and redesigned over the centuries. The palace complex features several beautiful patios (courtyards) and gardens laid out in the Islamic char bagh style.

For more information about the Alcázar of Seville visit http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/english-version/

You can find photos of my visit to the Alcázar on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Alcázar, Seville 2017-11-27T17:42:28+00:00