Feb 23 — What’s the Spiritual Season? It’s about food! Fasting.

WELCOME to a new weekly feature
we’re adding to ReadTheSpirit online. For more than a year, “What’s the Spiritual Season?” has been the most popular part of our free, weekly E-mailed “Planner.” (Click here to see a sample of this weekly newsletter and learn how to get this free service.)
    We’re responding to readers’ strong interest in this fun and useful portion of the Planner by expanding it. In coming months, you’ll get to know journalist Stephanie Fenton who now is our Seasonal Correspondent. Like everything else at ReadTheSpirit, we want you to help us shape this feature. We appreciate hearing from readers with tips, suggestions, critiques, ideas about additional resources we should add.
    SO, HERE IS …

What’s the Spiritual Season?
(February 23 to March 1, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

Food. Fasting. Festivities.
    This week is shaped by a great assortment of global observances — including fasts in several traditions. Many Hindus are fasting in honor of Lord Shiva today. Many Christians eat in abundance through Shrove Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) — and then they fast on Ash Wednesday.
    Meanwhile, there’s also a Baha’i observance this week. And, Tibetan Buddhists usually hold New Year’s festivals during Losar — but there’s news about this year’s unusual approach to the holiday. In short: There is a lot going on this week!

    Hindu fasting honors the god Shiva in an observance called Maha Shivaratri
. Many Hindus will offer Bael leaves to Lord Shiva, fast during the day and hold an all-night vigil. One of the prime purposes of this festival is to awaken the spirit.
    In honor of Maha Shivaratri, we’ve been exploring Indian culture online and have found a wonderful Web site with a recipe you can try at home for Shivratri Raita. The site also allows you to email recipes like this to friends.

    Handing down traditional recipies is important this week! Many Christians — and non-Christians as well — will hungrily watch paczkis fill the shelves of pastry shops for Shrove Tuesday. (See the girl holding a tray in the photo above?)
    Although the term “Shrove” is rarely heard in America anymore, the term still is used widely around the world. “Shrove” was derived from past tense of the English verb “shrive,” which refers to confessing one’s sins in order to obtain absolution. In Ireland and the UK, this is also known as “Pancake Day.” Whether making doughnuts or pancakes, the idea is the same: Christians traditionally clean out their cupboards of eggs, milk, sugar and other rich ingredients, in preparation for the fast of the Lenten season.

    Once again, we looked for a great traditional recipe to share:
Check out the RecipeZaar’s presentation of this traditional paczki recipe and you’ll also sense the longstanding family memories that flow through these foods. “Vina,” who posted this recipe several years ago and has adapted it based on reader reviews says she has taken all this trouble, because “I so looked forward as a child to the
Sundays that the Catholic church in Wilno, Minnesota, sold paczkis after
Mass on Sundays. They were the best treat ever.”

    Wednesday is known as Ash Wednesday to more than 1 billion Christians around the world and officially marks the beginning of the 40-day Christian Lenten season (Sundays are not included in this tradition of counting the days until Easter). Although the Bible does not refer to Ash Wednesday, mourning in ashes is mentioned, and many Christians spend a day fasting in self-discipline. Most Christians also try to receive a sign of the cross on their foreheads, the sign made of ashes, at an Ash Wednesday service.

    Also preparing for a new season are Tibetan Buddhists, who begin Losar, or the Tibetan New Year, on Wednesday. The observance began as an ancient, pre-Buddhist winter festival. Losar today is celebrated with dances and readings of Buddhist teachings, followed by the placement of new prayer flags. Monks clean and decorate monasteries as this is the most important holiday in Tibet. However, some news reports suggest the holiday will be toned down this year in respect to political repression in the region.
    The New York Times, for example, reported just days ago that a word-of-mouth campaign is spreading to protest Chinese rule by deliberately downplaying the celebration. “People have been told to refrain from setting off fireworks or
singing during the holiday period, which begins on Feb. 25. The
government has responded by handing out free fireworks and urging
people to resist the calls of people they pejoratively describe as ‘splittists,’ ” the Times reports.

    In further preparation for the coming Lenten season, Orthodox Christians observe Cheesefare Sunday. Yogurt, milk, cheese and dairy products are eaten in abundance on this day, as Orthodox Christians won’t touch dairy again until Pascha (Easter).

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