Dec 21 & 28, 2004 Volume 4 Issue 32
An All Holiday Edition
The year end is Holiday time.
A month ago I shared some Thanksgiving stories. This time, in an all Holiday issue, I've found some interesting thoughts on traditions. Specifically traditions about Hanukkah, about Ramadan, Christmas and from Buddhism. With a look at the New Year, too.
Enjoy ... and I'll "see" you the first Tuesday of 2005.
Christmas - Hanukkah - Ramadan - Full Moon Days - New Year Holiday Stories & Traditions
The History of Christmas
The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born.
The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals/parades with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.
Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god - Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days.
The Mesopotamian king would return to the temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The traditions called for the king to die at the end of the year and to return with Marduk to battle at his side.
To spare their king, the Mesopotamians used the idea of a "mock" king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all the respect and privileges of a real king. At the end of the celebration the "mock" king was stripped of the royal clothes and slain, sparing the life of the real king.
The Persians and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves would become the masters and the masters were to obey.
Early Europeans believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts and trolls. As the Winter Solstice approached, with its long cold nights and short days, many people feared the sun would not return. Special rituals and celebrations were held to welcome back the sun.
In Scandinavia during the winter months the sun would disappear for many days. After thirty-five days scouts would be sent to the mountain tops to look for the return of the sun. When the first light was seen the scouts would return with the good news. A great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the return of the sun. In some areas people would tie apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return.
The ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the Zagmuk/Sacaea festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god Zeus and his Titans.
The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn. Their festival was called Saturnalia which began the middle of December and ended January 1st. With cries of "Jo Saturnalia!" the celebration would include masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits).
The Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles. Again the masters and slaves would exchange places. Jo Saturnalia!" was a fun and festive time for the Romans, but the Christians though it an abomination to honor the pagan god. The early Christians wanted to keep the birthday of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, not one of cheer and merriment as was the pagan Saturnalia.
But as Christianity spread they were alarmed by the continuing celebration of pagan customs and Saturnalia among their converts. At first the Church forbid this kind of celebration. But it was to no avail. Eventually it was decided that the celebration would be tamed and made into a celebration fit for the Christian Son of God.
Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas.
The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of Christmas.
(This Christmas story from Merry-Christmas.com)
The tradition of having an evergreen tree become a symbol of Christmas goes back past recorded written history.
The Druids in ancient England & Gual and the Romans in Europe both used evergreen branches to decorate their homes and public buildings to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Over the years, these traditions were adopted by Christians, who incorporated them as part of their Christmas holiday celebration.
Trees used specifically to celebrate Christmas are mentioned in the early 1600's in Germany and surrounding countries. The families would set up these trees in a prominent location of their home and decorate them with colored paper, small toys, food, and sometimes candles. As these people moved or immigrated to other countries, they brought this tradition with them.
Through the years many different things were used to decorate Christmas trees. As the world moved into the 1900's, many trees were decorated with strings of popcorn, homemade cards and pictures, cotton to look like snow, candy in all shapes and sizes, and occasionally, fancy store made glass balls and hand blown glass figurines.
Candles were sometimes used, but often caused devastating fires, and many different types of candle holders were devised to try to prevent tree fires. Electric tree lights were first used just 3 years after Thomas Edison has his first mass public demonstration of electric lights back in 1879. The early Christmas tree lights were handmade and quite expensive.
Today, Christmas tree ornaments can be found in nearly every size, color, and shape imaginable, and they are used to decorate the millions of Christmas trees used throughout the world.
prepared by Rabbi Mark S. Diamond
The Hebrew word Hanukkah means "dedication." The roots of this name, and the Hanukkah holiday, come from the second century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). Chafing under foreign domination, a band of Jews led by Mattathias took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against the Seleucid regime of Antiochus IV.
Mattathias'son Judah took charge of the rebellion after his father's death. He was given the nickname "the Maccabee" ("the hammer"). Antiochus sent thousands of well-trained and well-armed troops to the land of Israel to crush the rebellion. The Maccabees responded with a brilliant campaign of guerilla warfare, and succeeded in driving the foreigners from their land.
Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem in December, 164 B.C.E. They found the sacred Temple in shambles, defiled and desecrated by foreign soldiers. They cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. They observed a feast of dedication for eight days in honor of their historic victory.
The contemporary observance of Hanukkah features the lighting of a hanukkiyah, a special Hanukkah menorah with eight branches and a ninth holder for the shamash, or helper candle. Popular legend connects this ritual with the tale of the cruse of pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days rather than one.
On the first night of Hanukkah, two candles are placed in the menorah. One serves as the shamash to be used for lighting the other candle. On each successive night, another candle is added to the menorah. By the time we reach the last night of Hanukkah, eight candles are glowing brightly in celebration of this beautiful festival.
Other familiar Hanukkah customs include spinning the draydal (a special top with Hebrew letters on the sides), eating potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and giving gifts of gelt (coins) to children.
In the broad sweep of Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday. It is not a yom tov, a holy day, akin to Rosh Hashanah or Passover. Hanukkah, like Purim, is a post-Biblical holiday, a happy, fun-filled celebration for the young and the young-at-heart.
The traditional greeting Jews extend to one another during this holiday is hag orim same'ah. Happy Feast of Lights! Happy Hanukkah!
Spelling has never been my long suit.
And then we who use English change other peoples words, even when they use the same alphabet. Brasil or Brazil ... as an example.
So, is it Hanukkah? Or Chanukah? The same Rabbi Mark Diamond who wrote the words above, says this;
Confused about different English spellings of Hebrew words? While scholars have their own preferences in transliteration, there is no one correct and authoritative way to render Hebrew words in English characters.
Take, for instance, the Hebrew word for the festival of lights: Hanukkah / Chanukah. It consists of five Hebrew characters opening with the consonant het (chet). This letter is not the equivalent of the English letter "h" (as in house). Nor is it the equivalent of the combination "ch" (as in child). It's a Hebrew guttural sound that has no precise equivalent in English.
In some transliterations, this sound is rendered by the consonant "h" with a dot or line underneath the letter. Popular usage favors "h" or "ch." This helps us to understand the variant spellings of the festival of lights and so many other Hebrew words.
Hanukkah? Chanukah? Perhaps even Khanooka? Variety is the spice of life.
IslamiCity.com is the source for the article.
"O Allah, For Your Sake I fasted,
Ramadan is the 9th month in the lunar year.
1.5 billion Muslims of the world celebrate their holiest month of Ramadan every year. During this month, healthy Muslim adults observe Fasting during the daylight hours. Muslim Fasting is a total abstention from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from dawn to dusk for 29 or 30 days of the month of Ramadan.
Also, avoiding immoral behavior and anger and showing compassion is part of the requirements of the fasting. The purpose of fasting is manifold. Allah (the God Almighty) mentioned in the Holy Book of the Muslims, Quran, that the fasting is prescribed for the believers as it was prescribed for the people before them, so that they may acquire self control and God-consciousness.
Therefore, the purpose of the fasting is to develop God-consciousness, self-control, improvement of health by reducing or eliminating impurities from the body, and to become aware of the plight of the poor, hungry, and the sick.
Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier.
Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of self purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life.
Ramadan is a month of spiritual consciousness and high sense of social responsibility. The fulfillment of one's obligations during the month is rewarded by 70 times. Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam including Announcement of Faith, Salaat (praying 5 times a day), Zakaat (the right of the poor on the wealth of the financially able), Fasting during the month of Ramadan, and Hajj (once a life time pilgrimage to Kaaba).
It is an obligation on every adult and healthy Muslim to fast during the month of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is also the month in which the Holy Quran was sent down from 7th level of heaven to the 1st level, from where it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in piecemeal basis over a period of 23 years. It is a very joyous occasion for the Muslims of the world.
Muslims fast during the day and pray and read Quran during the part of the night. There is a special night called the Night of Power, which is mentioned in the Quran, as a night of mercy and light and worshiping during this night is better than 1,000 months. During this night Quran was sent to the 1st level of heaven. Allah (the God Almighty) send down special angels during this night to pray for the mercy of Allah (the God Almighty) and salvation for the believers.
Unlike the common calendar, which is Solar based, Islamic calendar is Lunar based. It does not mean that Muslims worship moon. It is simply another way to count days of the month and the year. Like all Islamic months, Ramadan, the 9th lunar month, begins after sighting Crescent, and not the birth of the new moon. All healthy Muslim adult including homemakers, school-going kids around the age of 13, factory workers, businessmen and others among them will be fasting. Muslim get up very early to take their sahoor, a pre-dawn meal before starting their fast.
At the completion of month of Fasting, Muslims all over the world celebrate their holiday of Eidul-Fitr. It is a true thanksgiving for a Muslim believer for having the opportunity to obey Allah (the God Almighty) by observing Fasting. It is celebrated on the 1st day of 10th lunar month, Shawwaal.
The holiday begins with Muslims putting on their best preferably new clothes and going to the Eid congregation. Eid congregations are very large gathering of Muslim men, women and children across the world. Afterwards, people greet each other with hugs and handshakes. The children receive gifts. After the congregation, Muslims visit each other at their homes and hold lunches or dinners for family and friends.
Budhism FAQ, challenging Buddism
What follows is important ... because the outstanding events in the life of the Buddha took place on full moon days.
Many people would like to know the religious significance of the full moon and new moon days. To Buddhists, there is a special religious significance especially on full days, because certain important and outstanding events connected within the life of Lord Buddha took place on full moon days.
The Buddha was born on a full moon day. His renunciation took place on a full moon day. His Enlightenment, the delivery of His first sermon, His passing away into Nibbana and many other important events associated with His life-span of 80 years, occurred on full moon days.
Buddhists all over the world have a high regard for full moon days. They celebrate this day with religious fervor by observing precepts, practicing meditation and by keeping away from the sensual worldly life. On this day they direct their attention to spiritual development. Apart from Buddhists, it is understood that other co-religionists also believe that there is some religious significance related to the various phases of the moon. They also observe certain religious disciplines such as fasting and praying on full moon days.
Ancient belief in India says that the moon is the controller of the water, and circulating through the universe, sustaining all living creatures, is the counterpart on earth of the liquor heaven, 'amrta' -- the drink of the gods. Dew and rain become vegetable sap, sap becomes the milk of cow, and the milk is then converted into blood. Amrta water, sap, milk and blood, represent but different states of the one elixir. The vessel or cup of this immortal fluid is the moon.
It is believed that the moon, like the other planets, exerts a considerable degree of influence on human beings. It has been observed that people suffering from mental ailments invariably have their passions and emotional feelings affected during full moon days. The word 'lunatic' derived from the word 'lunar'(or moon) is most significant and indicates very clearly the influence of the moon on human life.
Some people, suffering from various forms of illness invariably find their sickness aggravated during such periods. Researchers have found that certain phases of the moon not only affect humans and animals, but also influence plant life and other elements. Low-tides and high-tides are a direct result of the overpowering influence of the moon.
Our human body consists of about 70% liquid. It is accepted by physicians that our bodily fluids flow more freely at the time of full moon. People suffering from asthma, bronchitis and even certain skin diseases, find their ailments aggravated under the influence of the moon.
More than 5000 years ago, people had recognized the influence of the moon on cultivation. Farmers were very particular about the effect of the moon on their crops. They knew that certain grains and paddy would be affected if blooming took place during a full moon period. Medical science had also ascertained the different reactions of certain medicines under different facets of the moon, because of the influence of the moon on human beings.
In view of the possible influence of the moon, the ancient sages advised the people to refrain from various commitments on this particular day and take it easy for the day. They are advised to relax their minds on this particular day and to devote their time to spiritual pursuits.
All those who have developed their minds to a certain extent can achieve enlightenment since the brain is in an awakened state. Those who have not trained their minds through religious discipline are liable to be subjected to the strong influence of the moon. The Buddha attained His Enlightenment on a full moon day for He had developing and attuning it correctly for a long period.
In days gone by, full moon and new moon days were declared public holidays in many Buddhist countries and people were encouraged to devote their time to spiritual development. It was only during the colonial period that holidays were switched over to Sundays. In view of this, some Buddhist countries are now trying to re-introduce the former lunar system of holidays. It is advisable to observe full moon day as a religious day to concentrate on peace and happiness by calming down the senses.
Many Buddhists observe the eight precepts on full moon days, to be free from family commitments and to keep away from worldly pleasures in order to have peace of mind for their spiritual development. The effects of the moon on life and earth has been analyzed scientifically.
One of the key experiments performed to establish this fact was on fiddler crabs, mice and some plants. They were all placed in chambers where weather conditions could not affect them, but were subjected to air pressure, humidity, light and temperature under controlled conditions.
The hundreds of observations made showed a remarkable fact, namely that all the animals and plants operated on a 28-day cycle. Metabolism which was found to have dropped at the time of the new moon was 20% higher at the time of the phase of the full moon. This difference is described as a striking variation.
Once a nurse in Florida told a doctor that she noticed a lot more bleeding occurred when the moon is full. The doctor was skeptical about such beliefs ... he laughed at this statement.
But the nurse, undeterred, produced records of surgical operations which clearly showed that during full moon, more patients had to be returned to the operating theater than at any other time for treatment for excessively bleeding after operations. To satisfy himself, this doctor started keeping records on his own and he came to a similar conclusion.
When we consider all those occurrences, we can understand why our ancestors and religious teachers had advised us to change our daily routine and to relax physically and mentally on full moon and new moon days.
The practice of religion is the most appropriate method for people to experience mental peace and physical relaxation. The Buddhists are merely observing the wisdom of the past when they devote more time to activities of a spiritual nature on New Moon and Full Moon days.
Not all countries celebrate New Year at the same time, nor in the same way. This is because people in different parts of the world use different calendars. Long ago, people divided time into days, months, and years. Some calendars are based on the movement of the moon, others are based on the position of the sun, while others are based on both the sun and the moon. All over the world, there are special beliefs about New Year.
Long Ago Festivals
In ancient Egypt, New Year was celebrated at the time the River Nile flooded, which was near the end of September. The flooding of the Nile was very important because without it, the people would not have been able to grow crops in the dry desert.
At New Year, statues of the god, Amon and his wife and son were taken up the Nile by boat. Singing, dancing, and feasting was done for a month, and then the statues were taken back to the temple.
Babylonia lay in what is now the country of Iraq. Their New Year was in the Spring. During the festival, the king was stripped of his clothes and sent away, and for a few days everyone could do just what they liked. Then the king returned in a grand procession, dressed in fine robes. Then, everyone had to return to work and behave properly. Thus, each New Year, the people made a new start to their lives.
For a long time the Romans celebrated New Year on the first of March. Then, in 46 BC, the Emperor Julius Caesar began a new calendar. It was the calendar that we still use today, and thus the New Year date was changed to the first day of January.
January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was always shown as having two heads. He looked back to the last year and forward to the new one.
The Roman New Year festival was called the Calends, and people decorated their homes and gave each other gifts. Slaves and their masters ate and drank together, and people could do what they wanted to for a few days.
The Celts were the people who lived in Gaul, now called France, and parts of Britain before the Romans arrived there. Their New Year festival was called Sanhain. It took place at the end of October, and Samhain means 'summer's end'.
At Samhain, the Celts gathered mistletoe to keep ghosts away, because they believed this was the time when the ghosts of the dead returned to haunt the living.
Jewish New Year
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It is a holy time when people think of the things they have done wrong in the past, and they promise to do better in the future.
Special services are held in synagogues, and an instrument called a Shofar, which is made from a ram's horn is played. Children are given new clothes, and New Year loaves are baked and fruit is eaten to remind people of harvest time.
Muslim New Year
The Muslim calendar is based on the movements of the moon, so the date of New Year is eleven days earlier each year.
Iran is a Muslim country which used to be called Persia. The people celebrate New Year on March 21, and a few weeks before this date, people put grains of wheat or barley in a little dish to grow. By the time of New Year, the grains have produced shoots, and this reminds the people of spring and a new year of life.
Hindu New Year
Most Hindus live in India, but they don't all celebrate New Year in the same way or at the same time.
The people of West Bengal, in northern India, like to wear flowers at New Year, and they use flowers in the colors of pink, red, purple, or white. Women like to wear yellow, which is the color of Spring.
In Kerala, in southern India, mothers put food, flowers, and little gifts on a special tray. On New Year's morning, the children have to keep their eyes closed until they have been led to the tray.
In central India, orange flags are flown from buildings on New Year's Day.
In Gujarat, in western India, New Year is celebrated at the end of October, and it is celebrated at the same time as the Indian festival of Diwali. At the time of Diwali, small oil lights are lit all along the roofs of buildings.
At New Year, Hindus think particularly of the goddess of wealth, Lakshimi.
In Vietnam, the New Year is called Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet for short. It begins between January 21 and February 19, and the exact day changes from year to year. They believe that there is a god in every home, and at the New Year this god travels to heaven. There he will say how good or bad each member of the family has been in the past year.
They used to believe that the god traveled on the back of a fish called a carp, and today, they sometimes buy a live carp, and then let it go free in a river or pond. They also believe that the first person to enter their house at New Year will bring either good or bad luck.
In Japan, New Year is celebrated on January 1, but the Japanese also keep some beliefs from their religion, which is called Shinto. To keep out evil spirits, they hang a rope of straw across the front of their houses, and this stands for happiness and good luck.
The moment the New Year begins, the Japanese people begin to laugh, and this is supposed to bring them good luck in the new year.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is celebrated some time between January 17 and February 19, at the time of the new moon, and it is called Yuan Tan. It is celebrated by Chinese people all over the world, and street processions are an exciting part of their New Year. The Festival of Lanterns is the street processions, and thousands of lanterns are used to light the way for the New Year.
The Chinese people believe that there are evil spirits around at New Year, so they let off firecrackers to frighten the spirits away. Sometimes they seal their windows and doors with paper to keep the evil spirits out.
New Year in the West
New Year's Day processions with decorated floats and bands are a part of New Year, and football is also played all over the United States on New Year's Day.
In Europe, New Year was often a time for superstition and fortune-telling, and in some parts of Switzerland and Austria, people dress up to celebrate Saint Sylvester's Eve.
In AD 314, there was a Pope called Saint Sylvester, and people believed that he captured a terrible sea monster. It was thought that in the year 1000, this sea monster would escape and destroy the world, but since it didn't happen, the people were delighted. Since then, in parts of Austria and Switzerland, this story is remembered at New Year, and people dress up in fantastic costumes, and are called Sylvesterklauses.
In Greece, New Year's Day is also the Festival of Saint Basil. Saint Basil was famous for his kindness, and Greek children leave their shoes by the fire on New Year's Day with the hope that he will come and fill the shoes with gifts.
In Scotland, New Year is called Hogmanay, and in some villages barrels of tar are set alight and rolled through the streets. Thus, the old year is burned up and the new one allowed to enter.
Scottish people believe that the first person to enter your house in the New Year will bring good or bad luck, and it is very good luck if the visitor is a dark-haired man bringing a gift. This custom is called first-footing.
The song, Auld Lang Syne is sung at midnight on New Year's Eve, and this custom is now celebrated all over the world.
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