What’s the Spiritual Season this week? St. Andrew’s party in Scotland, World AIDS Day and the real St. Nicholas


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(November 30 to December 6, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

THIS WEEK, Scots party down for the finale of “Homecoming Scotland” on the feast day of their patron saint: Saint Andrew! (The top photo is of Scotland’s oldest university, St. Andrews.) Meanwhile, members of the ancient Zuni tribe in New Mexico perform the elaborate Shalako Kachina Ceremony, and Christians around the world mark St. Nicholas Day. Also this week, World AIDS Day and World Day for Persons With Disabilities both try to raise awareness. Find out how you can help! Read all about these events and observances below …

FOLLOWING the fall harvest, American Indians of the Zuni tradition will begin the elaborate, multi-day Shalako Kachina Ceremony. Unlike many traditional Indian ceremonies, outsiders are invited to watch or attend the Zuni Shalako Ceremony. The Zunis have painstakingly preserved their ancient culture for many generations. For such important ceremonies, preparations begin 12 months in advance. During the Shalako Ceremony, the Zunis—who live in New Mexico on 450,000 acres—perform a series of rituals, dances and ceremonies. (This site on the Pueblo of Zuni has more information.)
    This community has inhabited the American Southwest for thousands of years. (Visitors are welcome. This Zuni Tourism site lists ideas of things to, how to be a respectful visitor, and more.)
    The Shalako Ceremony, or Shalako Festival, often features dancers up to 12 feet tall who appear in pairs. “Kachina” is the collective name for the ancestral spirits that act as intermediaries between people and the gods, and the “Shalako Kachina” is a ceremony that calls upon higher powers to bless new homes in the Pueblo. During this ceremony, dancers call upon a god by utilizing a particular mask shape, color, costume decoration and dance movement.
    At the end of the ceremony, the “gods” leave in a procession consisting of the Fire God (often represented by a young boy), the Council of the Gods and the Shalako dancers. As Zunis watch the procession, they pray for rain for the coming months, leaving their hopes with the Kachina messengers.

    INTERESTED IN NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE? You might also enjoy reading our in-depth interview with Kent Nerburn, author of the classic “Neither Wolf nor Dog,” or you might enjoy reading about Warren Petoskey, an Odawa elder and author of “Dancing My Dream.”

MONDAY, Christians around the world honor St. Andrew. While this apostle may not be talked about as much as his brother, Simon Peter, St. Andrew holds his own today in many lands that look to him for special inspiration! In fact, Scotland celebrates its national day on Nov. 30, St. Andrew’s Day, and this year is calling it “the biggest party yet.”
    According to biblical accounts and Christian tradition, St. Andrew was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee who became a disciple of John the Baptist. After John the Baptist told Andrew that Jesus was the Lamb of God, Andrew followed Jesus, becoming the first disciple of Christ (in the Orthodox tradition, St. Andrew is called “Protokletos,” or “First-called.”) When Jesus asked Andrew and Simon Peter to leave their home and follow him, the two did so, and Jesus called the brothers “fishers of men.” (Catholic.org gives us one description of this saint.) At the end of his life, when Andrew was tied to a cross for the two days preceding his death, he continued to preach. Today, St. Andrew is the patron saint of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Greece and Scotland.
    Each year, the people of Scotland honor their patron saint as well as their culture with parades and parties. Scotland’s flag is the flag of St. Andrew, and St. Andrews University is Scotland’s oldest university (founded in 1413). St. Andrew’s Societies around the world honor Scottish culture. (The photo above, at right, shows a gate to St. Andrews Cathedral in Scotland.)
    This year, as Scotland celebrates the finale of a year-long celebration, “Homecoming Scotland,” the St. Andrew’s activities will be the “largest ever!” Scots will be dancing in the streets to pipe-and-drum music, gazing at fireworks over Edinburgh Castle, watching the Torchlight Procession, taking in Scottish films and attending private parties. To honor the culture of Scotland, museums, castles, gardens and abbeys will offer free or discounted admission to visitors. (Find out just how big the party is from this preview article, courtesy of the BBC.)
    Or, if you’re in the mood for a firsthand account of a pilgrimage to Scotland, check out ReadTheSpirit’s 2007 pilgrimage to Iona. It’s complete with photos, text, video and more! In 530, St. Columba traveled from Ireland and landed at Iona, where he built a world-famous center of faith and art.

TUESDAY, make an effort to spread awareness through World AIDS Day. In 2009, the World AIDS Campaign is focusing on the theme: “human rights and access to treatment.” (One challenge in eliminating the spread of AIDS is its association with other, deep-rooted community issues, such as poverty, lack of education and the breakdown of the family.)
    In the UK, the 2009 theme has been transformed into “HIV: Reality.” By featuring real people with real, engaging stories on its Web site, the UK World AIDS Day Campaign is correcting myths, erasing stigmas and increasing education on preventative measures. (For some great resources, click here. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services features fact sheets, local event listings, posters and other resources.)
    Just what are the facts on AIDS today? More than 1 million Americans are living with HIV. Approximately 33 million global citizens are living with the disease. More than half of the people living with HIV are between the ages of 30 and 44. The number of people infected with HIV continues to rise steadily.
    Through the years, the link between AIDS and religion has been controversial. While some faith-based organizations have provided much-needed help, religious groups also have contributed to prejudice and discrimination. Experts estimate that more than 7 out of 10 people around the world identify themselves with some religious group—indicating that faith-based action can have a significant impact.
    Large networks of faith-based organizations, religious leaders and religious leaders with HIV (creating a larger group, called UNAIDS) work with the World Conference on Religion and Peace to combat some of the discrimination often inflicted on people living with HIV. (The UNAIDS Web site has some insightful articles on religion and AIDS campaigns.) This is important and controversial work. In 2009, we mark the 20th anniversary of “Stop the Church.” (In 1989, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power challenged the Catholic Church’s role in HIV/AIDS politics by staging protests in New York City. Religion Dispatches covered the history of AIDS in the public eye in an interesting article last year.)
    Whatever your faith may be, all of the world’s great religions teach compassion. Help raise HIV/AIDs awareness in your community by requesting a service dedicated to AIDS awareness. If you’re able, try to go a step further by encouraging your faith community to sponsor educational or testing opportunities.

THURSDAY, the world recognizes another day of awareness: the World Day for Persons with Disabilities. Worldwide 10 percent of people—or 650 million—live with disabilities.
    Although significant strides have been made in giving persons with disabilities equal rights, much work has yet to be done. Up to 20 percent of people living in poverty in developing countries are disabled—and often are treated unjustly in their communities.
    The World Health Organization is focusing on the need to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities through national, regional and global efforts. (The WHO Web page dedicated to International Day for Persons With Disabilities has more details.) This special observance aims to promote the “gains to be derived” by integrating people with disabilities into all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life.
    If you’re interested in finding out how you can help, consult Pathways to Promise, an interfaith resource center that offers materials on education and liturgical ideas. Pathways to Promise also teaches how to provide a caring ministry for any faith group. The Council For Jews With Special Needs and The Christian Council on Persons With Disabilities are just a couple of the denominationally-based organizations.

SUNDAY, start the Christmas season early by giving children small gifts and a history lesson—in honor of the “real Santa Claus!” (Visit the colorful, informative St. Nicholas Center for more details.) Today, both Eastern and Western Christians mark the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Well-known for his kindness and generosity, St. Nicholas was a 3rd-century bishop who lived in modern-day Turkey. This saint embodied many of the characteristics that define the cultural St. Nick, or “Santa Claus.” (A fun section for kids is included on the St. Nicholas Center site.)
    St. Nicholas was born in the village of Patara, an area that was, at the time, Greek. Having raised him as a Christian, Nicholas’ parents died in an epidemic during Nicholas’ childhood. Nicholas remembered having been taught that Jesus told his followers to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” so Nicholas used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. Nicholas then devoted his life to God. (Look to American Catholic.org for an account of St. Nicholas’ life.)
    Many tales surround the life of St. Nicholas, although there are few verifiable historical details. According to one story, Bishop Nicholas saved three children who had been murdered. After Nicholas prayed to God about these children, they were revived from death; thus, St. Nicholas became known as the patron of children. According to another story, St. Nicholas was returning from the Holy Land when a storm struck, and after his calm prayers, the storm stopped; thus, St. Nicholas became known as the patron of sailors and voyagers. St. Nicholas’ work on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden earned him a spot as the patron of many. (The day’s Bible readings, as well as creative ideas for kids, are suggested by Women for Faith & Family.)
    St. Nicholas’ feast day is a popular day for celebration in Europe. In Germany and Poland, boys dress as bishops and beg for alms for the poor; in the Netherlands, candy and small gifts are given on the eve of this saint’s day. (St. Nicholas Center has a nice overview of world traditions for Dec. 6.)

    CARE TO READ MORE—or perhaps host a St. Nicholas discussion with your youth group? The current edition of Bible Here and Now—our free discussion-starter Web site for youth groups—is all about St. Nicholas this week!

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