What’s the Spiritual Season this week? New Year’s fetes, Native American ceremonies and an Edison anniversary


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(December 28 to January 3, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

THIS WEEK, Kwanzaa continues through January 1.
Many Native Americans are holding festivals for midwinter and the new
year … Christians commemorate the Holy Innocents … Later in the week, we
honor the 130th anniversary of the public showing of Thomas Edison’s
electric incandescent light bulb. (We even ask: Could Thomas Edison have been a Buddhist? See what you think when you read the entry!)
… Thursday night, men and women around the globe toast the New
Year … On Friday, Catholics honor Mary, as the Mother of God, while Eastern
Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of St. Basil … Read all about
these events and observances below …

Through JANUARY,
and concluding in February, the Hopi Native American people perform
buffalo dances for the Hopi Holy Cycle. The people of the Hopi pueblos
observe nine major religious ceremonies throughout the year that
symbolize the changing of the seasons and the nature of the Hopi sacred
universe. The Hopi Holy Cycle begins this year-long string of
ceremonies. (Check out more from the Official Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.)
    The Hopis are Native Americans, most of whom live on approximately 2,500 square miles in northeastern Arizona. (Here is Wikipedia’s entry on the Hopis.)
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 7,000 Hopis live on
the Arizona reservation. The Hopi village of Old Oraibi, founded in 1100 CE is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in America.
    Hopi prophesies are plentiful in relation to today’s pollution of the Earth and the coming of a “Day of Purification.” (Minnesota State University has a neat page devoted to the Hopis and their ways.)

    According to Hopi beliefs, “All of the suffering going on in this
country with the tornadoes, floods and earthquakes is carried on the
breath of Mother Earth because she is in pain. … the Four Corners
area is particularly sacred because it literally holds Mother Earth’s
organs—coal and uranium,” says one elder. (This Web page gives extensive information about Hopi prophesies and beliefs.)

or February, Iroquois Native Americans begin their Midwinter Ceremony.
When the new moon appears, the spiritual year begins, according to the
Iroquois. Five days following the appearance of the new moon, a
nine-day ceremony begins and includes dances, feasts, traditional
rituals and the choosing of new council members. (Check out more on this Boston University Web page.)
In some tribes, children born that year are given their Indian names,
and in other tribes, dances such as the Bear Dance or Feather Dance are
performed. The Bear Dance is traditionally performed to cure medical
problems, while the Feather Dance is a positive, happy dance used to
welcome the new year. (Here is Wikipedia’s page devoted to the Iroquois.)
The Iroquois Confederacy is comprised of six Indian Nations—Mohawk,
Onedia, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora—and is therefore one of
the largest tribes.

many Christians break from the cheeriness of the Christmas season to
reflect on children killed under the orders of King Herod—on the
Feast of the Holy Innocents. (Find out more on American Catholic.org.) Herod, a king of Judea, was known for his harsh treatment of those who posed a threat to his regime.

    According to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod was upset when auspicious
travelers came to him asking where they could find a newborn “king”
whose star they had seen from a great distance. (Read more at Catholic Culture.)
Herod took violent action, according to biblical tradition, ordering
the massacre of male infants in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, Jesus managed
to escape to Egypt with his family. (Fish Eaters, a Catholic site, gives a longer account version of this traditional story.)
Through the centuries, the Christian church has regarded the children
executed by Herod as “Holy Innocents”—martyrs of the church. Some
Christians use this day to pray for unborn children, while others
let the youngest child in the household “rule” for a day. (Check out Women for Faith and Family for more.)

    In Hispanic countries, children often play tricks on adults, and
the adult being tricked is called an “Innocente” (similar to America’s
“April Fool”). Those who wish to solemnly remember the children
traditionally eat food that is red in color, such as a raspberry sauce.

considering all the high-tech gear that powers our lives today, it’s
remarkable that only 130 years have passed since Thomas Edison made the
first public demonstration of his electric incandescent light bulb.
That span of time is a relative flash in the entire scope of human
history. (Here is the official Thomas Edison site.)

    On Dec. 31, 1879, in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison presented his
practical incandescent electric light. Although the arc light was
already gaining popularity for its ability to light streets, department
stores and other large public areas, Edison’s bulb was simpler and more
practical. (Here is the site for the Edison Birthplace Museum.)

    Incandescent light bulbs work by using electricity to heat a thin
strip of material until the material glows with heat. The Menlo Park
Laboratory is open for public viewing at Greenfield Village in
Dearborn, Michigan. (Here is Greenfield Village’s page on Thomas Edison and the laboratory.)
Popular opinion dubbed Edison an atheist, yet the famous inventor
claimed that his religious beliefs centered around a supreme
intelligence. As a fan of Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason,” Edison
says he agreed with Paine’s “scientific deism.” In a letter, Edison
once wrote that “What you call God I call Nature, the Supreme
Intelligence that rules matter.” (Here is what Wikipedia has on Edison’s religious views.)
Edison also believed in nonviolence in the arenas of man and nature,
and stated that “Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the
goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings,
we are still savages.” Some of Edison’s assertions do sound similar to

some religious communities hold “Watch Night.” Many attend services on
New Year’s Eve that continue past midnight. Watch Night focuses on
prayers of thanksgiving for the past year and hope for the new year.
    Historical accounts date Watch Night to 1732, when a sect of Christians known as Moravians held a service in Saxony. (Read more on Wikipedia.)
In 1862, African Americans adopted Watch Night with particular fervor
because on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation would become
effective. Thus Watch Night became known to many African Americans as
“Freedom’s Eve.” (This site is devoted to the history of Watch Night in the context of Black history.)

people around the globe toast with Champagne and watch fireworks on New
Year’s Eve! The Gregorian calendar comes to an end on December 31, and
this year, everyone will be celebrating the coming of 2010. (Here is a site from the Times Square Alliance, the co-organizers of the New Year’s Eve bash in Times Square.)
    What happens around the world on New Year’s Eve?
In Sydney, Australia, fireworks displays are often among the first in
the world, due to global time zones, so Sydney’s display is commonly
broadcast during the day of Dec. 31 in various countries. In France,
friends and family announce New Year’s resolutions and sometimes eat
heart- or log-shaped desserts. (Wikipedia gives even more examples of celebrations around the world.)
For the Japanese, New Year’s is the most important celebration of the
year. People in Japan spend the day cleaning their homes to welcome the
god Kadomatsu, or Shimenawa. People also fly kites and participate in
joyous activities. Buddhists in Japan ring bells 108 times around
midnight, symbolizing 108 elements of bonno, or mortal desires; the
bells are rung to repent 108 of the bonno. (Find out more about the Japanese New Year here.) Millions in Japan visit Shinto shrines during these days of festivities—feasting continues on Jan. 1 and 2. (The BBC has a great overview of Shinto traditions.)
In Spain, Spaniards traditionally eat 12 grapes—one on each chime of
the midnight hour. And according to Hispanic tradition in Mexico and
Ecuador, wearing yellow underwear is a way to bring good fortune and
luck in the new year! Back in the U.S., New Year’s Eve is usually the
busiest day of the year at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, for which
the parks stay open late and provide New Year’s shows.

Catholics honor Mary in the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God. This
Marian feast allows devotees to pray for their sins and to praise the
motherhood of the Virgin Mary. (Find out more from Women for Faith and Family.) Some believe that, by keeping this day, the Holy Spirit will direct their thoughts and actions in the new year. (Here is Wikipedia’s page.)

    In light of the recent celebration of Christ’s birth—or the “Prince
of Peace”—many pray for peace on Jan. 1 and educate others on peace,

Also on FRIDAY,
much of the Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes the Feast of St. Basil
the Great, an early founder of the Greek Orthodox Church. As St. Basil
died on Jan. 1, the Orthodox Church recognizes him on this date. (The
Feast of the Circumcision is also recognized by many Eastern Christians
on Jan. 1. (Here is more from the Orthodox Church in America. And from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.)
St. Basil was born in 330 BCE in Caesarea, Asia Minor. He was one of
six children, all of whom became saints in the Church. St. Basil
studied in Constantinople and Athens and wrote and spoke about the
Christian Church. (Wikipedia offers a biography.) During his lifetime, St. Basil created the rules and regulations for monks of his time, many of which remain today. (Catholics honor St. Basil on Jan. 2, and Catholic.org gives a historical account of St. Basil.) St. Basil also formed the Divine Liturgy, which is still the base of a liturgy used in the current church.
In Greece, people traditionally eat a special cake with a coin inside
of it; whoever eats the piece of cake with the coin in it is supposed
to have good luck for the year.


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