From 4/27: What’s the spiritual season? Good luck in India, two Israeli holidays, Ridvan, Washington and May Day, too

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(April 27 to May 3, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

week, let’s stop first in India—for gold! It’s part of a popular celebration with serious implications, this year, for the region’s ailing economy. We’ve also got news about two Israeli holidays widely celebrated by Jewish families, two more important days for Baha’is, the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration, various May 1 festivities and the start of a month-long focus on older Americans …

ON MONDAY, jewelers, gold companies and even real estate agents look to a Golden Day, known as the auspicious Akshaya Tritiya in India. Widely celebrated by Hindus, Akshaya Tritiya is spelled many different ways in English, but it has a single meaning: success. It’s widely accepted that purchases of gold, silver, diamonds, real estate and other long-term investments at this time will bring wealth, good luck and prosperity.
Since this holiday falls on the one day of the year when both the sun and moon shine brightest, “Akshaya” is translated as “one that never diminishes.”
    In addition to hefty purchases, many Hindus view this day as ideal for a new venture, such as opening a business.
Hindus believe that the Ganges River (right) descended to the Earth from Heaven on Askhaya Tritiya, and many bathe in this most holy Indian river on this day. Many also accept the day as the birthday of the sage Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

    With global markets currently in a lull, it’s no surprise that jewelry, gold and diamond companies are looking to Akshaya Tritiya with great hope. Diamond company Gitanjali Group is anticipating selling 40 percent more gold coins to Hindus this year on April 27, compared with last year. Read a more detailed article on this from The Hindu online edition. Damas, a major jewelry company, has created a line specifically for this culture this year. The story was reported on by the World Gold Council.

ON MONDAY AT SUNDOWN, Jews—particularly those in Israel—recognize the beginning of Yom HaZikaron. A national memorial day, Yom HaZikaron honors all who lost their lives in the Israeli war for independence and in later defense of Israel. Similarly to the Yom HaShoah tradition, an air-raid siren rings out twice. During the first ring, all activity comes to a complete halt as respects are paid. During the second ring, prayers are begun in military cemeteries. It’s an especially solemn day because Israel is a small country and many families have lost relatives.

THEN, ON TUESDAY AT SUNDOWN, Israeli Independence Day, known as Yom Ha-Atzmaut, recalls the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. For the first time in 2,000 years, Jewish independence was restored. The desire to have a physical homeland had been a Jewish goal for many years. The evening often includes Israeli folk dancing in the streets, then on the following day many families enjoy hikes and picnics. In America, Jewish communities host joint celebrations.

ON WEDNESDAY, Baha’is suspend work and school again as they reach the ninth day of Ridvan. (Last week, we marked the start of Ridvan with a more extensive overview.) According to the Baha’i faith, the banks of the Tigres River rose during the Baha’u’llah’s stay in the Najibiyyih (Ridvan) Garden, making it impossible for anyone to cross over. On the ninth day, however, the waters descended and people—including Baha’u’llah’s family—were able to cross and to visit him.
    The ninth day of Ridvan is seen as an official day of thanksgiving for the Declaration of the Baha’u’llah as the Promised One. Baha’u’llah himself declared the ninth the holiest day of Ridvan. Many believers visit Baha’u’llah’s shrine in Israel on this day, and listen to a reading of the Tablet of Visitation. Here’s an overview of this observance from an independent site. And an article on the U.S. Baha’i site. (The photo at right shows one view of the shrine in Israel.)

ON THURSDAY, Orthodox Christians commemorate St. James the Great, recorded as one of the first disciples to follow Jesus. The brother of John, another apostle of Jesus, St. James was one of three disciples whom Jesus called upon to witness his transfiguration. When St. James was killed by King Herod Agrippa I, he became the first of the apostles to be martyred. Today, St. James is the patron saint of Spain. Santiago de Compostela (photo at left) in Galicia, Spain, is the town where St. James’ remains lie; this town is the third most sought-after destination for Christian pilgrims, trailing behind Jerusalem and Rome.

ALSO ON THURSDAY, spend some time gazing up into the sky! Gahambar Maidyozarem begins April 30 and continues until May 4 for Zoroastrians, celebrating the creation of the sky and the harvesting of winter crops. Zoroastrianism is associated with Persia but has had a wide influence on world religions. The faithful traditionally honor the seven elements of creation, one of those elements being the sky. Zoroastrians place great importance on the responsibility of humans for the well-being of the natural environment.

ON THURSDAY, when you open your wallet, say hello to that face on the $1 bill. American history was made 220 years ago, when George Washington’s presidential inauguration was held at Federal Hall in New York City. Three of the inaugural actions performed by the United States’ first president are still seen today: One, the phrase “So help me God;” two, the kissing of the Bible after taking the oath; and three, the inaugural speech. Despite his courageous leadership during the Revolutionary War, accounts report that Washington wasn’t as confident when faced with the prospect of presidency. In fact, he was downright nervous. While delivering his speech in a low, sometimes inaudible tone, Washington seemed anxious and spoke of many generalities. (Don’t take our word for it; check out this Library of Congress entry.)
Read Washington’s Inaugural Address at this Web site, compliments of The Avalon Project at Yale University Law School.
If watching a movie is more your style, check out “So Help Me God,” a historical look at the Inaugural Ceremonies 1789-2005: You can watch it right here on the U.S. Senate web site.

FRIDAY IS MAY 1 and there are many associations around the world with this key date on the calendar.
Bonfires will burn brightly on the eve of April 30, as ancient Beltane Festival customs come alive in preparation for May Day. With a long European history, primarily Celtic, the Beltane Festival dates back to pre-Christian times. Enormous bonfires characterize this night, and although ancient rites include such things as passing through smoke for purity, modern festivals focus on a sense of community. Wiccans continue to celebrate Beltaine, a spring festival of fertility, in a nature-centered manner. (Here’s a BBC look at Beltane. And, a Wiccan overview.)
According to The Midgie, a Scottish travel magazine, Beltane was revived in 1988 by Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society. (The photo at left is from an Edinburgh festival.) Approximately 12,000 spectators attend this event each year, which is open to all. Check out an article about Beltane, written in Midgie last month. Beyond Beltane, May Day has been a major milestone around the world for many years. Observances vary greatly and have evolved over the centuries. During the Cold War, May Day in Communist countries was associated with bravery and strength in workers’ movements and, for a while, there was even an American Loyalty Day on May 1.
    Historians debate whether May Day is the oldest pagan festival of the Northern Hemisphere. Puritans prohibited its observance in early America, but this fete of fertility has long held prominence in Britain and Europe. Customs have evolved from dancing around a tall, stripped tree (“Maypole”) to children dancing with ribbons that are draped from a pole. Traditionally, a queen and king of May Day are chosen, and children hang baskets of flowers on their neighbors’ doors. In Hawaii, May Day is known as “Lei Day” and leis are placed around people’s necks. In England, processions and Morris (folk) dancers are popular. (See photo at right of Morris dancers.) Roman Catholic tradition includes placing a crown of flowers on the head of a Virgin Mary icon. (Here’s a great Library of Congress folklore article on May Day.) Does the vitality of spring give you a fresh spirit? Check out this page for craft ideas related to May Day.

ON SATURDAY, Baha’is recognize the last of the three holy days of Ridvan; May 2 is the 12th day of this festival. Baha’u’llah spent 12 days in the garden of Ridvan in 1863 before departing—with family members, friends and followers—to Istanbul (Constantinople). Baha’u’llah left because he had been exiled from Baghdad.

FINALLY, ON SUNDAY MAY 3, congregations across the U.S. are encouraged to focus on senior adults, as May is Older Americans Month. President John F. Kennedy designated this month in 1963, and U.S. citizens are asked to pay tribute in some way to senior citizens in May.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the country was home to 37.9 million people aged 65 and older as of July 2007. Here’s just one example of the kind of emerging ministry focused on the unique spiritual needs of elders.

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