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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(April 13 to 19, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton
For millions of Orthodox Christians, Easter known as Pascha is still is on the horizon—while millions of other Christians still are celebrating the Western observance of Easter with a little extra holiday today. It’s also an auspicious time for Buddhists and Sikhs. Here are some of the major observances going on this week:
On Monday, April 13, many Christians will munch on chocolate eggs or find themselves doused with water in honor of Easter Monday, also known as Wet Monday or Dyngus Day. This is a national holiday in more than 100 countries.
The spring merriment is traced all the way back to ancient pagan gods — the twins Dyngus and Śmigus, meaning “water” and “thunder.” But later Christians would throw holy water at one another in the hopes of blessing a person or home, continuing the joyous feelings of Easter Sunday.
Easter Monday festivities have changed significantly through the years – and from country to country – but the largest contemporary bash happens in Buffalo, NY. The city’s large Polish-American population and Historic Polonia District encourage remembrance of the baptism of Duke Mieszko in 966 and the unity of Poland under Christianity. Each year, Buffalo tops the 100,000 mark in attendance of its annual Dyngus Day party. Attendees join in water-squiring (mainly with water guns) and in a parade.
Polka legend Lenny Gomulka, with 11 Grammy Award nominations and enshrined at the International Polka Music Hall of Fame, released the “Dyngus Day in Buffalo Polka” in 2006. Eager to hear his tune? Check out the music at Buffalo’s site.
Also on Monday, many Buddhists in Thailand begin the three-day Songkran Festival (also known as the Water Festival) in honor of the New Year. Of course, Thailand is in political turmoil at this week opens, but here is how the traditional festival usually plays out each year:
Buddha images are washed and the throwing of water onto others is popular, symbolizing a refreshing new start. No one – not even government officials – are exempt from the water-throwing practice, and all are expected to accept the wet gift with good spirits.
Fireworks, vigorous cleaning, kind spoken words and visitation to temples are hallmarks of this festival. On April 14, many will bring a bag of sand to a nearby temple. It is said that the sand taken away on one’s feet each time the temple is visited throughout the year needs to be replaced. Here’s another overview of holiday observances.
Starting on Monday and continuing into Tuesday is Vaisakhi, or Baisakhi – an observance of the solar new year with special significance for Sikhs. As with many springtime religious events, the deep roots of Vaisakhi lie in an ancient harvest festival – this particular one practiced in the Punjab.
This ancient festival took on a new meaning during a period of religious and ethnic conflict in India in the 17th century. As Sikhs recall the story: In the mid 17th century, a new ruler in India attempted to crush Sikh spirits by, among other things, imposing a harsh tax and pushing Indians to convert to Islam.
The ninth Nanuk of the Sikh religion, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was an innocent martyr in this struggle for freedom in 1675. Bahadur’s son, the 10th Guru Gobind Singh (right), continued his father’s mission and also became a major leader in Sikh history and a defender of his people.
In 1699, Guru Singh called to thousands of followers during the Vaisaki festival, inquiring who would be willing to give up life as a sacrifice in the struggle for liberty. Five men came forward, and these “Beloved Five” became the first soldiers of the Khalsa Panth. They were inducted into the Khalsa by the Guru, who sprinkled them with holy water – a rite that continues today for Sikhs who wish to be a part of the Khalsa brotherhood. Originally a sacred military order, the Khalsa came to refer to the larger body of Sikhs baptized in this traditional way. Since it marks the founding of the Khalsa, Vaisakhi now is a major holiday for Sikhs and often includes parades, prayer, songs and a continuing tradition of baptism. FINALLY, here’s a great overview of customs associated with this observance.
Shine up those golf clubs and call a caddy, because Monday also marks the day that Tiger Woods became both the youngest person to win the Masters Tournament and the first man of African descent to win a major golf title. In 1997, this golf prodigy (who was featured in Golf Digest at age 5) made history in two very admirable ways, and continues to amaze fans with his “stroke” of genius. But don’t think his abilities don’t pay off: In spite of the global recession, Woods pulled in an enviable $110 million in 2008, earning nearly three times more than his closest competitor. (Click here to read more.)
Interested in improving your game? Woods list five secrets to lowering scores in this article.
Tuesday: Did you know that alcoholism was a key factor in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln? On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot while taking in an evening play at Ford’s Theatre, unaware that his police guard had abandoned his post for a drink across the street. With an unlocked theater box at his disposal, John Wilkes Boothe shot President Lincoln, jumping from the balcony afterward and falling as he landed on the stage. President Lincoln died the next morning.
Newseum, the world’s most interactive museum located in Washington, D.C., is featuring the exhibit Manhunt: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer through the end of the year. For videos, author interviews and more about this topic, visit the Newseum site.
Thursday evening marks the end of Passover for Jews living outside of Israel. Customs vary, but many Jews choose to remain awake all night during the seventh day of Passover (Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, this year) in honor of Jews who stayed awake during the exodus from Egypt at the crossing of the Red Sea. According to the ancient story, the Jews were led by Moses throughout the night, making their way across the Red Sea and experiencing divine revelations. Of course, the pursuing Egyptians were not so fortunate. A special meal is often eaten in the afternoon, as this marks the last event of this year’s Passover. (For a fuller exploration of Passover, click here to return to last week’s Spiritual Season column.)
ORTHODOX EASTER, KNOWN AS PASCHA:
Most Orthodox Christians begin marking the last days leading up to Pascha with Holy or Great Thursday recalling four sacred events: the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus, an example of giving oneself onto others; Jesus’ internal torment in the Garden of Gethsemane as he accepted his impending death; the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, thus leading to Jesus’ arrest; and, most importantly, the “Mystical Supper” and institution of the Holy Eucharist into the church. (Here’s another overview of Holy Thursday.)
If the Orthodox observances spark your interest, tune into “Pascha: The Resurrection of Christ,” a program highlighting Orthodox Pascha. Broadcasts will be on ABC affiliates across the country this month. Visit this site for a list of broadcast dates in your area.
Holy Friday recalls Jesus’ suffering and death. No Divine Liturgy occurs on this day, but hours are marked by a series of readings from the Gospels about Christ’s passion, beginning Thursday evening. Finally, as Friday afternoon draws to a close, the faithful recall the placement of Jesus’ body in the tomb. (More on this holy day.)
On Holy Saturday, worship includes a tomb-like structure that is constructed in churches for this occasion. Part of the timeless appeal of the Orthodox church is that its traditions touch upon all senses, including sight and smell and touch. Believers honor the resting of Jesus after his death just as God rested on the seventh day of Creation. According to this traditional theme, Jesus recreated the world through conquest over death and providing for the resurrection of all believers, just as God created the world at the beginning. Also, a picture of the Epitaphion is placed on the altar on Holy Saturday, and remains there until Pentecost.
Orthodox Easter, known as Pascha, falls on Sunday and is met with jubilant feasting and hope. Pascha comes from the Hebrew word for “Passover,” but this Orthodox observance of Pascha celebrates the passover from death into new life in Orthodox theology. All fasts, which millions of Orthodox families have been following for weeks, are lifted on Pascha and the risen Christ is honored on this most important day of the Orthodox Christian calendar. (And, another view of the holiday.)
Here are some extras to enjoy: Visit this site to listen to traditional Pascha hymns. Would you like to know how to give a Paschal greeting in multiple languages? Check out this site.
ALSO ON SUNDAY! A small but growing number of Western Christian congregations across the U.S. are devoting the Sunday after Easter to “Holy Humor Sunday,” an ancient custom that is resurfacing with practical jokes, hilarious costumes, jokes and more. The Fellowship of Merry Christians, in particular, is promoting this old-time tradition in the attempt to get Christians to have some fun. Christians are being encouraged to maintain the joy of Easter Sunday for multiple days after the holiday, and although this take on the idea may sound odd, a handful of churches go almost over the top each year with this. Since it’s said that God played a joke on the devil by resurrecting Jesus, the Fellowship of Merry Christians is reminding all Christians that cutting loose every once in awhile never hurt anyone.
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