From 05/04: What’s the spiritual season? Cinco de Mayo, Time for Prayer, VE Memories and … oh, don’t forget Mother!

WELCOME to “What’s the Spiritual Season?” A short version is
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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(May 4 to 10, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

week, plan ahead! Mother’s Day is coming! Before that, we’ve got observances in several faiths, plus the American-Latino bash known as Cinco de Mayo. Here’s all the seasonal news for this week …

ON MONDAY, Zoroastrians spend one last day giving thanks for the creation of the
sky and the harvesting of winter crops, as Gahambar Maidyozarem draws
to a close. This five-day recognition is one of seven obligatory feasts
honored by the followers of Zarathustra.

    For Zoroastrians in North America, a significant event is coming
up soon: the 22nd Annual General Meeting. Held May 22-24 by the
Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA),
current topics of interest will be discussed, and new officers will be
elected (FEZANA is a non-profit religious group that coordinates
organization for the 27 Zoroastrian Associations of North America).

ON TUESDAY, cook up your favorite Mexican food and mix up some margaritas for Cinco de Mayo! Detroit News staff writer Amber Arellano, a Latino-American journalist who specializes in writing about culture and politics, sent us her own personal “take” on this holiday:
     “Cinco de Mayo is an American phenomenon. The Dia de Independencia, the Mexican independence day when people really celebrate their nationality with gusto and pride, is in mid-September. In the U.S., celebrations have been driven by marketing companies. Call it the Mexicano St. Patty’s Day—except with no real roots in the old world!
    “But hey, it’s fun. Mexican Americans—some, anyway—go out and drink and party with their non-Hispanic friends who want a reason to hang out together and drink margaritas. In downtown Los Angeles thousands of people cram the streets of the traditionally chicano neighborhoods. It’s quite a bash. Personally, I don’t do it because it has no real rootedness in my life or heritage, but maybe I should start. It is fun.”
    If you don’t have the funds to party out this year, here’s a multi-media presentation by the L.A. Times with tips for at-home celebrations
. Complete with a colorful array of recipes and photos for side dishes, main dishes and margaritas, this online site will help you feel in the Mexican spirit in no time!

ON THURSDAY, watch how the National Day of Prayer unfolds this year.
    U.S. News & World Report Religion Writer Dan Gilgoff reports that the Obama White House is not as eager as the Bush administration to welcome the conservative Republicans who direct the biggest National Day of Prayer program. Republican activist James Dobson and his wife use the event each year to rally support for their own programs—and they limit participation in their official events to what they describe as “Judeo-Christian” prayers. For many years, their national network of organizers has been even more narrowly limited to evangelical Christians.
    The Bush administration was comfortable welcoming such an exclusive segment of American religious leadership to the White House. But, nationwide, diverse interfaith observances have popped up in response. Watch local media in your part of the U.S. for regional observances.
    We’re also aware of many small-town and community observances of National Day of Prayer that are popular ecumenical expressions of heart-felt prayer.
    This is a complex story. So, please, tell us what you’re hearing—and how you feel about the annual event. We’d like to hear your stories.

ON THURSDAY and FRIDAY, people around the world remember “VE Day”—short for Victory in Europe. “NAZIS GIVE UP” read one headline on that day 64 years ago.
    On May 7, 1945, the armed forces of Nazi Germany officially surrendered in Reims, France. The surrender took place at 2:41 a.m., French time. 
    May 8 was declared VE Day—the day in 1945 when the World War II Allies officially accepted the Germans’ unconditional surrender in Berlin, Germany, thus ending the war in Europe. (Hitler had killed himself a week prior to the surrender. The war with Japan would end later.)
    In cities around the world, crowds cheered and a general merriment filled the streets. The Russian Federation and some countries formerly in the USSR recognize the end of WWII one day later, on May 9.
    VE Day has become a poignant anniversary, once again, for many Americans concerned about our GIs fighting overseas in conflicts that have run longer than WWII.
    You also can hear an original audio broadcast of the VE Day announcement in 1945 (courtesy of the History Channel).

On SATURDAY, Buddhists observe Wesak, or Vesak, also known as “Buddha Day” in English. There are many sects within Buddhism, but all Buddhists distinguish a day for Guatama Buddha’s Enlightenment. Some Buddhists also commemorate the birth and passing of Buddha on Vesak, making this the greatest festival on the Buddhist calendar.
    The recognition date for Vesak varies by tradition and lunar calendar—the Gregorian calendar marks it on May 9 this year—but the decision to celebrate Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday was made official at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Sri Lanka in 1950.
    To many Buddhists, Vesak means paying homage in temples, throwing colorful fetes, cleaning houses and enjoying vegetarian feasts. In keeping with the movement toward Enlightenment, it’s common to give money and time to charitable causes and to aid the sick and elderly. Some traditions even incorporate fine arts into the holiday in the form of delicate paintings and dramatic scenes from Buddha’s life.
    A Buddhist flag, which hangs high during Buddhist festivals (particularly Vesak), is comprised of the five colors that are believed to have been in the aura that shone around the head of Buddha after his Enlightenment: blue (Compassion); yellow (The Middle Path); red (Blessings); white (Purity); and orange (Wisdom). Today, this flag symbolizes unity among Buddhists. (That’s a Buddhist flat at right.)
    Children are also a focus of Vesak. Many enjoy making bamboo lanterns covered in colorful tissue paper. Children’s Vesak lanterns are strung together and lit at night, often creating a spectacular illumination. Have your children make their own Vesak lantern at home! (Or, here’s another site with Vesak craft instructions for kids.)
    According to a Tibetan news Web site, London is hosting a major Buddhist cultural festival, underway until May 17.


… MOTHER’S DAY in North America is by far the biggest! Don’t forget to bring Mom flowers, give her a call or make her breakfast. The second Sunday in May was deemed Mother’s Day in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson, and other countries thank Mom on this day, too, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium.
    Ancient Greeks were the first to set aside a day in honor of the mother of the gods, but it wasn’t until 1907 that Anna M. Jarvis, a teacher in Philadelphia, began to push for a national Mother’s Day in America. It is believed that she chose to place Mother’s Day on a Sunday so that it would be recognized as a holy day.
    Here’s a site full of Mother’s Day poetry, gift ideas, recipes, fun facts and more.
    The “Mother Church” for Mother’s Day remains Jarvis’ Methodist church, although congregations of many faiths usually give a tribute to mothers on this day. Customs vary: some congregations pass out flowers, some offer prayers for mothers.

Also ON SUNDAY, don’t get too impatient if you’re held up at a crossing, waiting for a train to pass. Think about the fact that 140 years ago, the transcontinental railroad was completed and opened for use. With the driving of the final spike, this route connected the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, thus initiating the fast, cheap and convenient transportation of people and goods.
    While the transcontinental railroad meant wonderful opportunities for American settlers, not everyone benefitted. Check out this interview with Donald Fixico, Thomas Bowlus Distinguished Professor of American Indian History and Director of the Center for Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas, on how the railroad impacted Native Americans and the American buffalo population.
    This might be a good day to reflect on all forms of connection in our modern history. Only 140 years after crossing our continent with rails, we’re forming new global networks all the time.

Finally, ON SUNDAY IN THE UK, make it a point to help abolish global poverty as Christian Aid Week begins. Christian Aid—a registered charity in the UK—names May 10-16 as Christian Aid Week this year. Christian Aid has been coming to the rescue for more than 60 years with no discrimination on the basis of religion or nationality.
    Currently, Sri Lanka, Gaza, DR Congo and Zimbabwe are at the top of Christian Aid’s help list. And, you don’t have to live in the UK to contribute to Christian Aid.
For more information on the week-long special focus, visit Christian Aid’s site.

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