The ever-changing scenes of nature afford not only the most economical but also the most innocent pleasures which man can enjoy.
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Known as The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur marks the end of Rosh Hashanah, and is the most sacred and solemn of all Jewish festivals. It is on this day that Jews believe God makes His final decisions about what the coming year will bring for each and every person. The Book of Life is closed and sealed and Jews who have properly repented of their sins will be rewarded accordingly by God. As Yom Kippur is the only day of the year when there are five different services, Jews spend much of the festival in the synagogue. Other Yom Kippur observances include fasting and abstaining from sex, washing and perfuming oneself and wearing leather shoes.
The five services of Yom Kippur:
- The Kol Nodrei service (evening) – Includes the reading of the Kol Nidrei prayer and act of vidui (confessing of one’s sins). Prayer shawls are not usually worn for evening services, but Jewish men wear them to the Kol Nodrei service in honour of the special occasion.
- The Shacharit service (morning) – Includes morning prayers, the Shema, the Amidah prayer, reading of the Torah, and the Yizkor
- The Musaf service – Takes place immediately after the Shacharit service. It includes Musaf Amidah, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, the Avodah and the priestly blessing.
- The Afternoon service – Includes Torah readings, the Amidah prayer, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, and the recital of Avino Malkenu.
- The Neilah service (closing) – Brings Yom Kippur to an end as God’s judgement is finally sealed and the congregation beseech God to hear the prayers of the community. Everyone stands for the duration of the service as the doors of the Ark are open. At the end of this final service, the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) is sounded one final time.
For more information about Yom Kippur please click here
Marking the beginning of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar, this is the Islamic New Year festival. Muharram is a sombre month for Muslims, who derive messages from Hussein ibn Ali’s sacrifice. Muharram celebrations and traditions differ between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, and also between Muslim communities around the world.
Shi’a Muslims in countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, india, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan organise matam (remembrance parades) with men gathering in the streets to take part in ceremonial chest beating. In Iraq, some Shi’a Muslims make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine on the grave of Husayn ibn Ali. In Iran, parts of south Asia, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, the battle of karbala is re-enacted in special Condolence Theatre performances.
The word Muharram means ‘forbidden’ in Arabic. For this reason, many Muslims choose to fast on or around the Day of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram. Mosques often provide nazar (sacred free meals) to Muslims between the ninth and eleventh days of the month. In the vast majority of countries, Muharram 2017 will begin on 21 September, but for a couple of countries it will begin the following day, on the 22 September.
For more information about Muharram please click here
20 to 30 September
Falling in the Hindu month of Ashwin and lasting for nine nights, Navaratri is the longest and the largest festival in the Hindu calendar. It ends with Vijayadashami, another big festival. With Nav meaning ‘nine’ and Ratri meaning ‘nights’, the festival takes its primary name from the length of the celebrations. However, the festival is often known as ‘Durga Puja’ because during the festival Hindus worship the Goddess Durga and, through her, the shakti (feminine power). While the festival is joyfully celebrated all over India, it has particularly popularity in the state of West Bengal.
Over nine nights, the Goddess Durga is worshipped in nine different forms: Durga, the invincible; Bhadrakali, the auspicious and fortunate; Amba or Jagdamba, Mother of the universe; Annapoorna, giver of food; Sarvamangala, giver of joy all around; Bhairavi, the terrifying; Chandika, the violent; Lalita, the beautiful; Bhavani, the giver of life; and Mookambika, the one who listens. Hindus eat only vegetarian foods during Navratri, with many choosing to fast during the festival. Clay idols of Goddess Durga are brought into Hindu homes or public venues and people show their respect for shakti through their worship of these. At the end of the nine days, the idols are immersed into water to liquefy and return to the riverbed. Traditional Garaba dances take place at cultural organisations, hotels, clubs and on the streets, often featuring well-known celebrities.
For more information about Navaratri please click here
A two-day festival in commemoration of the creation of the world, Rosh Hashanah is the Jews New Year celebration. Known as ‘The Days of Repentence’, it is a time when Jews ask for God’s forgiveness as he weighs up their good and bad deeds across the past year and determines their fate for the year ahead. During Rosh Hashanah, Jews visit synagogues to reflect deeply on their priorities in life, asking themselves who and what mean the most to them, what they have achieved thus far in life and what are their hopes and wishes for the future.
One important ritual that takes place in the synagogues during Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shafar (ram’s horn trumpet). This is played in a special rhythm for one hundred notes. After the shafar has been sounded, families return to their homes to enjoy a special meal together. Along with a number of traditional dishes, a pomegranate is often included on the table in respect of the Jewish tradition that the pomegranate has 613 seeds – one for each of the commandments that Jews vow to keep. The sounding of the shafar marks the beginning of ‘The Days of Awe’ – a ten-day period which ends with the festival of Yom Kippur.
For more information about Rosh Hashanah please click here
‘Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir’
(‘There are flowers everywhere for those who really want to see them’)
This is a festival in celebration of the installation of the Sikh holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, at Sri Harimandur Sahib (The Golden Temple) in Amritsar, India. The treasured scripture is at the heart of Sikh worship and devotion at Sri Harimandir Sahib, which was built in the late 16th century when Guru Granth Sahib was completed. In the early morning of Guru Granth Sahib day, Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously set on the Singhasan (throne) in the centre of the Temple’s sanctum. Passages are read from the scripture during the day and Sikh’s visit Sri Harimandur Sahib to pay their respects. In the evening, Guru Granth Sahib is respectfully returned to its usual resting place in the Akal Takhat, another building in the Temple complex.
Guru Granth Sahib was compiled in 1604 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. He collated and edited the prayers and hymns of the four previous Gurus together with his own and those of Hindu and Muslim saints where he felt the sentiments echoed those of Sikhism. The result was a new Sikh Holy Scripture which was installed in Sri Harimandir Sahib on 01 September 1604, and conferred the title of ‘Guru’ on 20 October that same year. For Sikh’s, Guru Granth Sahib is worshipped as the revealed word of God written by Sikh Gurus and Saints. The Holy Scripture consists of 1,430 pages written in Gurmukhi (the script of Punjabi), containing 5,894 shabods (revealed hymns of six Gurus) arranged into 31 ragas (musical groupings).
Sikhs show the same respect to Guru Granth Sahib as was shown to the human Gurus. In gurdwaras (Sikh temples), the Holy Scripture rests in its own bed each night and is ceremoniously fanned whenever it is recited from. It is not permitted to place Guru Granth Sahib on the ground, nor for any Sikh to turn their back to it. Most Sikhs do not have a copy in their own homes because it is so difficult to show it the respect it commands.
For more information about Guru Granth Sahib please click here
01 to 04 September
Sometimes called ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, this four-day festival commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishamael, when commanded to do so by God. When Ibrahim (Abraham in Judaism and Christianity) was just about to commit the sacrifice at the top of Mount Moriah, he was stopped by an angel and given a ram to sacrifice in place of his son.
At Eid-al-Adha, Muslims pray at home or visit mosques to listen to commemorative sermons. New clothes are worn as friends and family gather to exchange gifts, share food and worship together. Many families sacrifice an animal in a symbolic act known as qurbani. Meat from the sacrificed animal (typically a sheep, goat, cow or camel) is divided into three parts, with one part charitably donated to the poor, one part given to friends and neighbours, and the final part retained for the family.
The dates for Eid-al-Adha are often changed up to ten days before the start of the festival. This is because the Islamic calendar is based on observations of the Moon. For more information about Eid-al-Adha please click here
This week REEP Director, Diana Lazenby McLaren, and her husband, Richard McLaren, held two meeting at their home in Warwickshire. The meetings were attended by REEP trustees and supporters from England, Spain and, in absentia, Morocco. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate REEP projects over the past 12 month and to discuss our programme of work for the coming year and beyond. The meetings were very fruitful and we all left feeling excited about our forthcoming plans.
25 August – 05 September
Also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, this ten-day festival takes place during the Hindu month of Bhadra and is a celebration of the birth of the elephant-headed God, Ganesha. Lord Ganesha is worshipped as the God of beginnings, the Lord of arts and sciences and the deva (god) of wisdom. He is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati
There are two different legends about Ganesha’s birth. In the first, the devas asked Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati to create a child to be a vighnakartaa (obstacle-creator) and a vighnahartaa (obstacle-averter) against impending demonic forces. In the second legend, Parvati sculpted a son from the dirt on her body when she took a bath, naming her new child Ganesha. When Lord Shiva returned to the house he found Ganesha standing guard at the bathroom door while Parvati finished her bath. Not recognising Ganesha as his son, Lord Shiva challenged him and cut of his head. When she found out, Parvati was distraught and to appease her, Lord Shiva promised to bring their son back to life. When the devas returned from their search for a new head, they presented Lord Shiva and Parvati with the head of an elephant. Lord Shiva fixed the head onto the body of Ganesha and brought him back to life.
In preparation for the celebrations, life-like clay models of Lord Ganesha are prepared. These can vary in size from a petite 2cm to over 7 metres. On the first day of the festival, the statues are placed on raised platforms inside homes or in ceremonial tents outside. In a ritual called pranapratishhtha, holy mantras are chanted as priests invoke life into the idols. This is then followed by special tributes, which include offerings of coconut, jiggery (palm sugar), modakas (rice flour preparations), durva (trefoil) blades and red flowers, as well as the anointing of the idols with red unguent or sandal paste. The ceremonies are accompanied by the singing of Vedic hymns and Ganesha stotra. On the final day of festivities, communities join together in song and dance as they process through the streets, carrying the Ganesha idols to nearby rivers. Here, after final offerings of coconuts, camphor and flowers, the idols are immersed into the water where they soften, liquefy and return to the river bed.
For more information about Ganesh Charurthi please click here
18 – 25 August
Meaning literally ‘abiding’ or ‘coming together’, Paryushan is the most important festival in the Jain calendar. It is a time of reflection, purification and confession for Jains, who take on temporary vows of study and food restriction, as well as practising daily meditation and prayer. Celebrations conclude with Jains confessing for any transgression of the five great vows, asking for forgiveness from all living beings and giving their own in return.
Many Jains take time off from work during Paryushan and impose further restrictions to their already vegetarian diets. Now they also chose to eliminate vegetables like potatoes, onions and garlic, which require the whole plant to be killed rather than just the taking of its fruit. Some Jains choose to fast for the duration of Paryushan Parva, breaking their fast at the end of the festival with a special meal in which they do not touch their food but are instead fed by friends and family in respect of their feat.
Jains are divided into two major sects – the Digambara (sky clad sect) and the Svetambara (white clad sect). For Digambaras, Paryushan lasts for ten days, whilst for Svetambaras, the festival lasts for eight days – there are a few differences in the Paryushan traditions of the two sects.
For more information about Paryushan Parva please click here
Alternatively known as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, this day is a celebration of the Virgin Mary’s assumption into Heaven by God. Christians believe that when the Virgin Mary died, her body did not undergo physical decay but was instead received into Heaven to be reunited with her soul.
In many European countries, such as France and Italy, the day is a public holiday and people take to the streets to watch processions and firework displays. In Sicily and rural areas outside Rome, a special bowing ceremony takes place in which a statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the streets to the parish church. Here, a statue of Christ is held aloft under a ceremonial arch of flowers. The two statues are made to ‘bow’ to each other three times before the Virgin Mary follows her son into the church for a special benediction.
For more information about the Feast of the Assumption please click here
14 to 15 August
Janmashtami is a lively and colourful celebration of the birth of Krishna (born c. 3228 BC), one of the most popular Hindu deities. The festival takes place in the Hindu month of Sravana – usually August or September in the Gregorian calendar. Janmashtami lasts for two days, with many Hindus choosing to fast on the day and night of the first day. Their fasts are broken at midnight, when Krishna is believed to have been born, and Janmashtami celebrations become an altogether more joyous affair. Song, dance and drama are crucial to Janmashtami celebrations, with bhajans (traditional songs) sung, dances performed and plays about Krishna’s early life re-enacted.
In Hindu temples, bells are rung, the shankh (conch shell) is blown and holy mantras are chanted as images of Krishna are bathed and placed in cradles. Food has a central role in Janmashtami festivities. As Krishna was fond of milk, buttermilk and curds, celebratory foods are prepared based on these ingredients. Buttermilk also features in an unusual tradition in which a young boy carrying a handi (clay pot) filled buttermilk is lifted to the top of a human pyramid, where he smashes the pot and spills the contents.
For more information about Janmashtami please click here
Impart as much as you can of your spiritual being to those who are on the road with you and accept as something precious what comes back to you from them.”
13 to 15 July
Bon is the Japanese word for lantern, but the O-Bon* or Bon festival is known both as the ‘Festival of Lanterns’ and the ‘Festival of Souls’. Taking place across three days, it is a time for spirits of the dead to make a brief return to their earthly homes. Many people return to their hometowns to tend family graves and to festoon the graveyard with paper lanterns and incense to guide the spirits of their ancestors. Homes are cleaned and illuminated inside and out with lanterns too. On the final evening of celebrations, Bon Odori (lantern dances) are performed and okuri-dango (farewell rice dumplings) are offered to the spirits. Celebrations end when the paper lanterns are taken to the nearest river or ocean where they float away, guiding the spirits back to Meidu, the celestial world of the dead.
* The ‘O’ is often attached to ‘Bon’ as an honorific prefix
For more information about O-Bon please click here
This day commemorates the death of The Báb, Herald of the Bahá’í Faith. While The Báb (1819 – 1850) had many followers, his beliefs were not condoned by the leaders of Persia’s state religion. First they had him imprisoned but later they decided upon a harsher punishment, death. One of the Báb’s young followers begged to share his fate. The firing squad lined up and fired shots at The Báb and his follower. Yet, when the smoke cleared the young follower stood alone and unharmed, while The Báb appeared to have vanished. The guards found him later, sitting calmly and very much alive in his prison cell. Alarmed by the apparent ‘miracle’, the firing squad refused to fire at the men a second time. A new regiment was called for. The Báb and his follower were shot dead and their bodies thrown into a nearby moat, later to be rescued by supporters and buried in a dedicated shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.
Today the Martyrdom of The Báb is a day of rest. To commemorate the executions, Bahá’í’s recite prayers at midday – the precise time at which the executions are believed to have taken place.
For more information about the Martyrdom of The Báb please click here
On Dharma day Buddhists around the world celebrate the day when Buddha began his teaching. Siddhartha Gautama was a wealthy prince who became disillusioned when he discovered the harsh realities of the world beyond the palace walls and chose to renounced his wealth and family. Determined to understand the truth of life, he decided one day to sit beneath the Bodhi Tree* (the tree of awakening). After meditating deeply on the subject, he achieved Enlightenment and became Buddha.
The Buddha taught that the idea that we exist as isolated entities is an illusion. All living things are interrelated; and we are part of that interconnectedness and do not have autonomous existence. Buddha taught a path from selfishness to generosity, from ignorance to wisdom, from hatred to loving-kindness. Openness, mindfulness, compassion and wisdom are the very heart of the Buddha’s teachings.
* 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.
For more information about Dharma Day please click here
Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival) is devoted to two stars who are in love but only allowed to meet just once a year. According to Japanese legend, Kenoyu (Altair, or the cowherd star) and Shokujo (Vega, or the weaver star) fell deeply in love only to be torn apart by the vast expanse of the Milky Way. One day, a tiding of magpies forms a bridge across the Milky Way and the two stars are reunited once more. Although they cannot stay together for ever, they are allowed to meet for one day each year, on Tanabata Matsuri.
The custom of offering prayers to the cowherd star for a fruitful harvest and to the weaver star for skill in weaving has given rise to the festival’s other alternative name, ‘Weaver Festival’. Young people celebrate by writing their hopes and wishes for the coming year onto strips of paper which they then hang on makeshift bamboo constructions in their gardens. At school, children write prayers to the stars for success in their studies. The festival has been celebrated in Japan for centuries, originating from an earlier Chinese custom.
For more information about Tanabata Matsuri please click here
Hold on to what is good, even if it’s a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here. Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.
One of the two major holidays in the Islamic calendar, Eid-ul-Fitr takes place at the end of Ramadan and marks the end of a month of strict fasting and prayer. First celebrated in 624 CE by the Prophet Muhammad along with his family and friends, Eid celebrations today begin with the first sighting of the new moon in Islamic countries.
During Eid, Muslims give prayer and thanks to Allah for the help and strength he gave them to exercise self-control during Ramadan. Special Eid services are held in mosques and in public places outdoors, and processions take place in the streets of many towns and cities.
Central to the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations is the lavish feast, with families getting together to enjoy their first proper meal together for a month. Many Muslims also attend communal prayers, listen to khutba (a sermon) and give zakat al-fitr (charity in the form of food). Gift-giving is also traditional at Eid, as are new clothes and festive decorations for the home.
For more information about Eid-ul-Fitr please click here