Interfaith Festivals – Christmas and New Year

Interfaith Festivals - Christmas and New YearAt this time, there are so many festivals centered around the time of Solstice, the Birth of Christ, the Death of the Prophet Zoroaster. Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Judaism are all represented with festivals at this time. In the New Year, there is the Shinto New Year observance, The Epiphany (Christmas for the Orthodox), the Rastafarian Christmas, the celebration of Guru Gobind Singh, the World Religion Day of the Baha’i and the Mahayana New Year of the Buddhists. Melkut shomain, the Reign of God is celebrated in many traditions.


December 25 – Christmas

Christmas ~ Christianity

 

One part of the story of the birth of Jesus begins with the phrase “In those days”. These few words locate the events that unfold in Bethlehem in a remembered specific reality. The Roman empire under Caesar Augustus was vast and expanding. Bethlehem was a small town in a very small part of that empire. The contrast of power and vulnerability could not be greater.

In such a world of contrast and power a baby is born. A child whose birth attracts attention and creates such fear and danger that refuge in Egypt is the safest option.

A reality for people in this period of time was that peace (Pax Romana) was maintained through fear. Into this world is born ‘the Prince of Peace’ and on whose shoulders power will rest.

The peace that is revealed in Jesus transforms people and situations. The most marginalised are made the centre of the story. Discrimination based in illness or disability is overcome. Women and children are affirmed, and violence does not have the last word. Peace is revealed as people focussed with prophetic strength.

The simple story of a baby in a manger is dismissed by many, yet it continues to be a light of hope that shines eternal as it is the birth of God in human form, coming to us in love. This is the sign that God has love and hope for the world. As such the message of Christmas, the message of God’s extravagant love, offers a real alternative for a flourishing life.

December 26 Zarathosht Diso – Zoroastrian

Zoroaster - founder of Zoroastrianism

 

Zoroaster is famous throughout the world as the principal founder of Zoroastrianism. A pious, noble and compassionate person, Zoroaster was a great messenger of Ahura Mazda and eventually became the Prophet of Iran. The message of the Prophet was simple – lead a high moralistic life that would pave way for immortality and eternal bliss. He also asked people to follow the doctrine of the God of Righteousness, Ahura Mazda.

On the top of Mount Sabatam, Zoroaster experienced Samadhi or communion with Ahura Mazda, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. Thereafter, Zoroaster had prophetic divine visions. Upon conversations with Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster received wisdom in the form of the seven revelations, which turned him into the Prophet of God. He, thence, became the renowned messenger of Ahura Mazda. In his spiritual path, Zoroaster had direct conversations with archangels, who helped him immensely.

After being stunned by the visit of archangels, King Vishtaspwas convinced of the supernatural powers of the Prophet. He made Zoroaster, the Prophet of Iran. This marked the beginning of Zoroastrianism. Right from the king to the queen, chieftains, king’s brother and the father-in-law of Zoroaster, all became loyal and faithful followers of the new religion. With the royal patron at Zoroaster’s aid, Zoroastrianism spread far and wide. Both the masses and classes started believing in the new faith, making it the religion of the Iranian Kingdom.

The success of Zoroastrianism rubbed the King of Turan at the wrong end, resulting in two bitter religious wars between Iran and Turan. In the first war, both the king and his brother, Zarir defeated the enemies. However, in the process, Zarir, a gallant young man, was treacherously killed. In the second war, the King Aryaspof Turan destroyed the temples, killed the priests and burnt the Zend Avesta, but was finally defeated by Ispendiar, the son of King Vishtasp.

While Zoroaster was praying before the altar in the temple of Nush-Adar, with a rosary in his hand, he was attacked by Bratrok-resh, a Turanian. The latter killed the Prophet of Iran with his sword. At the time of his death, Zoroaster tossed his rosary at Bratrok-resh. A fire emerged and engulfed Bratrok-resh, finally destroying him. Zoroaster was seventy-seven at the time of his death.

December 28 Holy Innocents

Dalai Lama with Children at McLeod Ganj

 

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, also called Childermas or Innocents’ Day, Christian feast in remembrance of the massacre of young children in Bethlehem by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18). The feast is observed by Western churches on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29. The slain children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. It may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

In medieval England children were reminded of the mournfulness of the day by being whipped in bed in the morning; this custom survived into the 17th century.

We observe this day in remembrance and honour of the Holy Innocents of this Day and Age: all children who were sexually abused in religious institutions. Thirty years ago, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – an international agreement on childhood. It’s become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives around the world. The Rights of the Child should be protected in all religious and spiritual institutions.

1 January – Mary, Mother of God – Christianity

Mary - Mother of God
“Madonna and Child,” created by Parker Fitzgerald, based on the Irish illuminated gospel, Book of Kells.

Many people, Protestants particularly, object to the figure that Mary has become. She is seen almost as a goddess figure, possibly derived from the fact that many Pagans became Christians in the early centuries of the church and they believed in goddesses, so Mary became to them the goddess. Many people would say that was something that went wrong with Christianity. There’s nothing about Mary being a goddess in the New Testament.

Jesus is God and human so therefore Mary is simply human. Christian theology has always maintained that she was a human being and not God, but nevertheless, she was a human being in a very important and intimate place in the story of Jesus.

There have been many images of Mary through the centuries. Some have derived from the Bible, such as the image from the book of Revelation showing Mary with a crown of 12 stars. She represents the early church with the 12 tribes of Israel represented by the stars.

Christians of many traditions hold Mary in a special place in the plan of salvation, and honour her under the title “Mother of God” (theotokos, greek) and celebrate the role of Mary in the Christian story. Hence, the 1st of January is a common feast day of Mary with this title, this honour, during Christmastide.

1 January Shogatsu/Gantan-Sai – Shinto religion

Shinto today is the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of “spirits”, “essences” (kami), suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations. Practitioners express their diverse beliefs through a standard language and practice, adopting a similar style in dress and ritual, dating from around the time of the Nara and Heian periods (8th-12th century).

The word Shinto (Way of the Gods) was adopted, originally as Jindo or Shindo, from the written Chinese Shendao meaning “spirit” or kami and michi, “path”.

A Shinto shrine shinsha, meaning: “place of the god(s)” is a structure whose main purpose is to house (“enshrine”) one or more kami.

Gantan-sai (New Year) is observed at large, public Shinto shrines. Different shrines have varying celebrations and names for this festival. Shogatsu is a term meaning New Year. The image above shows the New Year Festival at Tokorozawa-Shinmei-Shrine, a Shinto Shrine of Japan.

New Year observances are the most elaborate of Japan’s annual events. Before the New Year, homes are cleaned, debts are paid off, and osechi (food in lacquered trays for the New Year) is prepared or bought. Osechi foods are traditional foods which are chosen for their lucky colours, shapes, or lucky-sounding names in hopes of obtaining good luck in various areas of life during the new year. Homes are decorated and the holidays are celebrated by family gatherings, visits to temples or shrines, and formal calls on relatives and friends. The first day of the year (ganjitsu) is usually spent with members of the family.

January 6, Epiphany ~ Christianity

Epiphany ~ Christianity

 

Epiphany, the feast of Christ’s revelation, focuses on Christ, the light of the world, drawing believers and non-believers to the place where God became incarnated as a vulnerable child amid persecution and despair. The date for Epiphany was determined in the year 300 in the East and was soon also celebrated as the festival of Christ’s birth in the West. In the Western tradition, from the 13th century on, the feast concentrated on the three magi, “wise men,” and interpreted them as kings coming from the East. In some countries, children dress up as the “three kings,” visit houses and write a blessing for the new year on top of the entrance door, while collecting money for church activities. In the Western tradition, Epiphany, or the “day of the three kings,” comes in a natural line after the celebration of Christmas, 12 days after Christmas day, and closely connected with the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, then his family’s flight from Herod to Egypt, and finally their settling in Nazareth, in accordance with the Old Testament prophecies.

The story of the magi also clearly points to the faith that God’s salvation is for all people, including those who were perceived to be non-believers but are drawn toward Christ by his light and call to worship and service. The story of Matthew reminds us that distinctions between “insiders” and “outsiders” began to erode with the coming of Christ and have vanished. Some who were perceived to be “insiders” (Herod’s advisors) were “outsiders.” The outsiders, the foreign and unknown magi who humbly followed the light of a star, became those who found the truth in Jesus.

January 7 – Christmas Day – Rastafarian

Christmas Day - Rastafarian

 

Rastafarians do celebrate the Birth of Christ, except that it’s not called Christmas and it’s not celebrated on the 25th of December. It is called Lidät, an Amharic word meaning “Birthday”. Because the Amharic language has its own alphabet, you will sometimes find this spelled as Ledet or Lidet as there is no standard transliteration in Western letters.

It is clear from the name that the origin of this custom is Ethiopia, the spiritual home of Rastafari. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world, has been celebrating the Birth of Christ on the 7th of January long before European Christendom even came up with its own version of Christmas. In the light of the on-going controversy about the exact date, let me hasten to mention that the Orthodox Church does not claim that this was the day Jesus was born. Rather, the Feast was instituted by the Three Kings who arrived in Bethlehem on this day and paid homage to the Infant Christ.

As Ganna is a very religious occasion on the Ethiopian calendar, Orthodox Christians and Rasta alike attend mass on Christmas Eve (January 6th), known in Ethiopia as the gahad of Christmas. The church service typically begins at around 6 pm and continues through to the early hours of Christmas day. Chanting and singing are central to the services. Many people go from church to church on foot to take part in various services before the break of dawn.

 

 Rastafarian and Orthodox Christians celebrating Melkam Genna, the Rastarfarian Christmas

Rastafarian and Orthodox Christians celebrating Melkam Genna, the Rastarfarian Christmas

January 9 – Guru Gobind Singh – Sikhism

Guru Gobind Singh was the 10th Sikh Guru of Nanak. He was born at Patna, Bihar, India, on December 22, 1666. His birthday sometimes falls either in December or January or even both months in the Gregorian calendar. The annual celebration of the Guru’s birthday is based on the Nanakshahi calendar.

Guru Gobind Singh was the son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who gave his life to protect religious freedom. He succeeded his father when he became a Guru at nine years of age. Guru Gobind Singh’s teachings have a big impact on Sikhs. In his lifetime, he stood against the Mughal Rulers and fought against injustice. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh took five men from the lower caste of society and baptized them as His Five Beloveds, endowing them with great courage and a devotion to God. It was his dedication to God, his fearlessness and his desire to protect the people from being oppressed that led Guru Gobind Singh Ji to establish the Khalsa, a military force of saint-soldiers which he baptized.

Under Guru Gobind Singh’s guidance and inspiration, the Khalsa followed a strict moral code and spiritual discipline. It was through his courage that the people rose against the oppression of the Mughal ruler in India at the time. Aside from being a spiritual and a military leader Guru Gobind Singh was also a gifted writer who penned a large body of literary work. Before his death in 1708, he declared the Guru Granth Sahib, which is Sikhism’s Holy Scripture to be the permanent Sikh Guru.

January 10, Bodhi Day ~ Buddhism

Bodhi Day ~ Buddhism

 

At the moment of the his enlightenment the Buddha declared, “I now see [that] all sentient beings everywhere fully possess the wisdom and virtues of the enlightened ones, but because of false conceptions and attachments, they do not realise it.”

The day of The Buddha’s enlightenment —and the promise of our own— is celebrated by millions of Buddhists every year on Bodhi Day, the eighth day of the twelfth month, which falls on December 8th in Japan’s Westernized calendar and in early January in China’s lunar calendar. (Bodhi is the Pali and Sanskrit word usually translated as “enlightened” or “awakened.” The peepal tree under which Siddhartha Gautama sat on the night of his great awakening is often referred to as the bodhi tree.)

January 13, 2022 Lohri ~ Sikhism

Lohri ~ Sikhism

 

According to the Hindu calendar, Lohri is usually celebrated on 13 January every year. That is, it is celebrated a day before Makar Sankranti. People believe that this festival signifies that according to the Hindu calendar, the month of Magha is about to begin and the Hindu month Paush, which is the coldest month of the year, is about to end. This is the reason that many people celebrate this festival as Maghi festival. A fire is lit, and offerings are made to fire. Dancing around the fire is also a common activity of this festival.

At this time, people worship and walk around temples (or the fire) and seek blessings from God. According to their customs, on the day of Lohri, people eat mustard greens, jaggery, Gajak, sesame, groundnut, Phuliya, and other food items like cornbread with holy offerings. Apart from this, people wear new clothes on this day and also do the Bhangra, which is a dance of the people of Punjab. For the farmers, this day is considered as the beginning of the new financial year. Because farmers bring their crops home on this day. This festival is celebrated more in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and north India, and this day is also celebrated as New Year.

January 14, Makara Sankranti ~ Hinduism

Makara Sankranti ~ Hinduism

 

This Sankranti day is extolled by poets as conferring on mankind a subdued Sun, a cool breeze, with a nip in it: the birds welcome the day with joyous song; Goddess Earth wears a sari of green, dotted with red and yellow flowers. Man and beast are happy that their exertions have been rewarded with harvest: they can look forward to a few weeks of sport and pastime, recouping and ruminating. It is a Day of Bliss for man and animal; Bliss, both inner and outer. It is green, both in the outer world and in the inner. In the inner, because, this day marks a new phase in the march of the Sun, who is the inspirer and invigorator of the Intelligence. Bhishma waited for this so that he may travel beyond death, with an illumined intellect, aware of his identity with the Supreme. This is called Uttarayana, because the Sun swings towards the North from today. For the next six months the Sun moves Northward by degrees. So it is called, Uttara (Northward) ayana (journey).

The Northern direction is associated in Indian scriptures with the Gods, and so these six months are considered specially suitable for spiritual exercises, spiritual studies and for ceremonial rituals. But I must tell you that you must be concerned more with the Sun in your inner firmament than in the depths of outer space. You are concerned with the Inner illumination, more than external light and energy, What is the spiritual effort that will send the Inner Sun Godward? God is hidden and obstructed by the clouds of egoism. Getting rid of egoism is the spiritual exercise to be practised.

January 17 Tu BiShvat – Judaism

Tu BiShvat - Judaism

 

Traditionally, Tu BiShvat was not a Jewish festival. Rather, it marked an important date for Jewish farmers in ancient times. The Torah states, “When you enter the land [of Israel] and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten” (Leviticus 19:23). The fruit of the fourth year was to be offered to the priests in the Temple as a gift of gratitude for the bounty of the land, and the fifth-year fruit–and all subsequent fruit–was finally for the farmer. This law, however, raised the question of how farmers were to mark the “birthday” of a tree. The Rabbis therefore established the 15th of the month of Shevat as a general “birthday” for all trees, regardless of when they were actually planted.

For environmentalists, Tu Bishvat is an ancient and authentic Jewish “Earth Day” that educates Jews about the Jewish tradition’s advocacy of responsible stewardship of God’s creation as manifested in ecological activism. Among them, contemporary versions of the Tu Bishvat seder, emphasizing environmentalist concerns, are gaining popularity.

January 17 Baha’i: World Religion Day

World Religion Day symbolises a day that acknowledges that religion plays a big role in connecting humankind. Originated from Baha’i principles, this day promotes the need for universal equality. It develops a stronger interfaith understanding while strengthening connection between all communities. As time has progressed, World Religion Day is not exclusively celebrated by Baha’i followers but it has also brought interfaith dialogue where the perspectives of other faiths have been welcomed and shared.

January 18-20, 2022 00:00 Mahayana New Year ~ Buddhism

Mahayana New Year

 

Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant faith of Northern and Eastern parts of Asia including China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Tibet. Among the key traditions include Zen, Tiantai, Korean Seon, Chinese Chan, Pure Land and Nichiren.

Similar with all other cultures and traditions, New Year is a vital celebration for Buddhists although calendar dates for each country/tradition are different. Many Mahayana Buddhists celebrate it on December 31st or January 1 together with the rest of the world while others wait for the first full moon which usually falls mid-January.

Honouring and praying to their deities particularly Buddha is the most important activity for the New Year. On New Year’s Day, every Buddhist visits a nearby temple to light up candles which is considered to bring happiness and good luck for the coming year. Statues of Buddha are also bathed as a show of respect. Religious songs are also offered to the deities.

Most Buddhists also meditate and reflect on their life situation in previous years trying to identify some of the faults and wrong decisions they have made in the past. Making things right is often a New Year’s resolution. Buddhists believe that buying new items, cleaning and redecorating the home and giving gifts can bring good luck. Sweets are never absent during feasting and of course, fireworks at midnight.

 

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the traditional tree,
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the traditional tree, 1848 (anonymous: unknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

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