What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Lent’s countdown, various New Years, remembering loved ones & lots of green


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 15 to 21, 2010)
By Stephanie Fenton




 NO, IT’S NOT JUST YOUR EYES! The river in the
photo—taken of the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day last year—really
is green! Green is an important theme that carries on the rest of the
week, too—in the form of spring, that is. Hindu festival Ugadi honors
springtime (and a New Year) on Monday, and both Baha’is and Wiccans
celebrate the same on Saturday. Zoroastrians celebrate spring and a New
Year on Sunday, and throughout the week, both Zoroastrians and Shintos
remember loved ones. Read all about these events and observances below

ALL WEEK, Lent continues for 2 billion Christians
around the world. We’re publishing a FREE
daily Lenten series, called “Our Lent: Things We Carry,” for the 40 days
leading to Easter.

    ALSO, we’re expanding our Lenten
Resources Page
—with suggestions readers are Emailing us at [email protected].

MONDAY, Hindus are
the first group of the week to honor a New Year celebration with Ugadi.
(The photo at left shows a priest offering prayers at a Ugadi
festival last year.
) According to Hindu tradition, Ugadi (spellings
vary by region) marks the beginning of a new lunar year and the same
day, many believe, that Lord Brahma started creation. (Find out more at
TajOnline, an Indian Web site.
    As the “flame of the
forest”—trees with red blossoms—greet devotees during this time of year
in many parts of India, the scent of jasmine fills the air; many women
weave jasmine flowers into their hair as a sign of devotion. During the
day, mantras are chanted and the faithful gather to hear New Year’s
predictions from a priest-scholar. Mangoes are often eaten, too, since
they are plentiful and tying mangoes to one’s home entrance is
customary. (Here
is a festival explanation from Wikipedia
    Prior to beginning
the day, it is tradition for some Hindus to take an oil bath. (Hindu-blog
provides a brief regional breakdown of Ugadi.
) For those hoping to
make a new start in life—or begin a new venture—today is considered

Also on MONDAY
Zoroastrians begin Ghambar Hamaspathmaedem, a period of five days when
the creation of human beings is celebrated and loved ones who have
passed on are recalled. (We look through an ancient Zoroastrian
burial temple in the photo at right
    The Zoroastrian
faith—whose largest following today is considered to be in India,
although followers hail from Iran, Canada and even Australia, too—has
six ghambars throughout the year. (Read more about the
faith at Wikipedia
.) Each ghambar, or seasonal festival,
traditionally has been a time for the faithful to gather, share food,
mingle with other classes and generations and resolve disputes. Ghambars
are the only festivals mentioned in the Avesta,the Zoroastrian holy
Scriptures. (The
Zoroastrian Heritage Institute gives details on ghambars
Zoroaster, the founder of the religion, was born in 628 BCE. (Wellesley
College has a helpful page on Zoroastrianism
.) Some believe the
basic concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology have influenced the Abrahamic

, don’t
forget to wear green—it’s St. Patrick’s Day! Countries around the world
have taken to honoring Irish culture and St. Pat on March 17 with
shamrock decorations, plenty of corned beef, parades and Irish (or at
least green-tinted) beverages, usually alcoholic in nature! Although the
day commemorates one of the most well-known Christian saints, little is
actually known about the life of St. Patrick. (But this
colorful, interactive site from History.com gives lots of colorful
) Only two authentic letters from St. Patrick are still in
existence, and these letters provide the only true, universally accepted
facts about his life.
    Did you know that St. Patrick wasn’t even
    A Roman Brit by birth, St. Patrick was captured by Irish
raiders as a teenager and was taken to Ireland as a slave. After six
years in slavery—during which St. Patrick says his faith in God grew—the
saint-to-be escaped Ireland and returned to his family. Back home, it
was only after becoming involved in the church that St. Patrick returned
to Ireland (this time by free will). St. Patrick followed in his
family’s footsteps, as his father was a deacon and his grandfather was a
priest. (Get the
Catholic perspective at Catholic.org.
Or, AmericanCatholic.)
St. Patrick the bishop spent time as a missionary in Ireland,
converting many Irish pagans to Christianity and serving Ireland’s
existing Christian communities. (A Druid prophesy supposedly predicted
the coming of St. Patrick to Ireland.) St. Patrick would come to convert
the wealthy, the poor, members of nobility and peasants alike. (Wikipedia has
more on St. Patrick,too
    The exact birth and death dates
of St. Patrick remain unknown, although some scholars believe he died on
March 17. It’s believed that St. Patrick was buried alongside St.
Brigid and St. Columba.
    This year, the National Retail
Federation predicts that more green (OK, we do mean money here) will be
spent on this year’s festivities than was spent on last year’s—thanks to
an improving economy, according
to the Boston Globe
. According to the Federation’s annual St.
Patrick’s Day survey, young adults will be spending an average of $4
more on St. Patty’s Day fun than they did last year; the average
celebrant will spend an average of $1 more. (Find out what festivities are
going on in your area at St.Patrick’sDay.com.
And because we don’t
want to leave out the kids, here are some
family-friendly St. Patty’s crafts and more from Kaboose

, some
Western Christians honor St. Joseph Husband of Mary. No
details about the poor carpenter exist other than those written in the
Christian Scriptures, and so today devotees read about Joseph’s loyalty
to Mary—during a time when he could only trust God that her unborn
child Jesus, not theirs, was one he should care for. (Find more details at
FishEaters.com, a Catholic site
    In the Christian tradition,
Joseph is the patron of the universal Church, of fathers, carpenters
and of social justice.
    In Sicily, Italy, Joseph is honored more
than any other saint. On St. Joseph’s Day, many Sicilians and Italians
decorate a St. Joseph’s Table (like in the photo at right). (More
is at Wikipedia.
    The St. Joseph’s Table has been a tradition
since the Middle Ages and, more specifically, since a time when a
ruthless drought struck Sicily. After many died of famine, the Sicilians
prayed to God and St. Joseph for rain, promising that if it rained,
they would hold a special feast in honor of God and St. Joseph. The
rains came, and the Sicilians began their tradition. (The tables, or St.
Joseph’s Day Altars, were brought to New Orleans many years ago by
Sicilians, and many St. Joseph celebrations occur in New Orleans, too. Even
New Orleans tourism sites refer to this practice.
Joseph’s Day Tables/Altars must be built without cost to the builder, so
common practice is to beg for food to put on it. Nonperishable foods
are the most popular choice for the tables/altars, since the food can be
donated to charity after St. Joseph’s Day. (Check
out this blog, a virtual St. Joseph Altar with a prayer list, St.
Joseph history and more.
    In some Catholic countries, Italy
included, today is similar to American Father’s Day.

Pagans celebrate the Spring equinox with Ostara (and Mabon in the
Southern Hemisphere.) The name “Ostara” derived from the term “Eostre,” a
Germanic goddess of spring, and Pagans have long used this time to look
forward to the coming season of crops. (Here is Wikipedia’s page.)
Eggs, rabbits and other symbols of fertility are recognized during this
time of year that signifies new life. (More details can be
found at Wicca.com
    According to Pagan legend, Eostre found
a wounded bird during the late winter and, to save its life, she turned
it into a hare. But since the hare was originally a bird, it was still
able to lay eggs. Legend has it that the hare left the eggs as a gift
for Eostre. (Read
this full story, and more, at About.com.
    After decorating
eggs and eating chocolate bunnies, as many others do during this time,
some Wiccans believe that spring is an ideal time to fast. As the winter
often is a time for heavy foods and cured meats, cleansing the body can
prepare it for the fresh, light fruits and vegetables of the warmer
seasons. Flower dishes, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds are
traditional foods to enjoy.
    Looking for a way that you can
celebrate spring? Try planting seedlings in a garden, taking a walk
through the woods and seeing what signs of new life that you can find.

Baha’is outside of the Middle East make up the second group of the week
to honor a New Year with the elaborate, festive Naw-Ruz (spellings
vary, including Noruz). Naw-Ruz has been—and still is—the New Year
celebration in Iran and other Middle Eastern and Central Asian
countries. Some accounts date Naw-Ruz back 15,000 years! Baha’u’llah, a
key figure in the Baha’i faith, considered this day holy. (Learn details
in this article from the Baha’i Library.
    The Baha’i calendar
consists of 19 months of 19 days each, and during the last month of the
year, Baha’is fast for periods through the entire month. (General
information is at Wikipedia.
) On Naw-Ruz, Baha’is are able to give
up the fast, to feast and celebrate the New Year. Often, Baha’is meet
for prayers, music and traditional dancing, although specific practices
vary by region. Much like the Pagan Ostara or Christian Easter, Naw-Ruz
is a time to wear new clothes and eat fresh spring foods. (This article at Bahai.us is
from 2007, but contains fun, personal accounts of Naw-Ruz.
Interestingly, Abdu’l-Baha (the son and successor of Baha’u’llah)
declared Naw-Ruz to be a spiritual springtime, too. Abdu’l-Baha
explained that the Equinox is a symbol of the Manifestations of God,
which include Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, Baha’u’llah and others. The son
of Baha’u’llah believed that springtime is an ideal time to reflect on
the message of the prophets and to create oneself “spiritually anew.”
Naw-Ruz is one of nine Baha’i holy days and has long been the only
Iranian holiday celebrated by more than one religious group. (In ancient
times, a period was also dedicated to reflecting on the spirits of the
dead, much like the Japanese Shubun-sai, described below.) Even into the
19th century, Naw-Ruz was the one day of the year that the Shah dined
with other people.

SUNDAY, many
Zoroastrians make up the third group of the week to celebrate a New Year
with Jamshedi Noruz, the most important day of the Zoroastrian year. As
mentioned by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, in the Avesta
(holy book), Jamshedi Noruz should be observed. This day is dedicated to
fire. (Read
more at the Zoroastrian Heritage Institute
    According to
Persian mythology, King Yima (Jamshid) created the Persian calendar and
Zoroastrians named the New Year’s Day “Jamshedi Noruz,” or “the New Day
of Jamshid.” (Interested?
Read more at the London Grid For Learning, an initiative for London

with pages on just about everything.
    Iranians and
Zoroastrians typically set up a table of seven food items around the
time of Noruz, to mimic the ancient practice of leaving food out for the
spirits of deceased loved ones. The foods often included on this table
are seen as representative of the Zoroastrian seven emanations of God.

, many Japanese spruce up the graves of loved ones for
Shubun-sai, a Shinto observance with close ties to Buddhism. This
Japanese Equinox observance says “spring” in every way: Observers wash
the stones of their ancestors’ graves, clean the areas around the graves
and leave fresh flowers at the gravestones.



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