What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, World Food Day, Diwali and a New Year, too!

1 Divali Lights India

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(October 12 to 18, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton




2 Canadian Thanksgiving preparation


is marked with surprising readjustments if you’re used to the American calendar—starting with TODAY, MONDAY October 12, which is Thanksgiving! (You’ll also learn, in our final item this week, that Sunday is New Year’s Day—if you live in the right corner of the world, that is.)

It’s not Thanksgiving in the U.S., but it is to the north of us. Canadians share some roots of Thanksgiving history with others across the Americas. Here’s a History Channel page on general Thanksgiving history. One example of the intriguing details on that page: You might assume that British colonists served mild foods—but this article says the first Thanksgiving menus most likely were spicy. “People tend to think of English food as bland, but, in fact, the pilgrims used many spices, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and dried fruit in sauces for meats,” the article says.

Canadian Thanksgiving history does diverge from American tradition—including the date of this harvest festival on the first Monday of October each year. Check out Wikipedia’s article to learn more. For instance, Canada’s first Thanksgiving was way back in 1578—about 40 years before Americans can claim a “first” Thanksgiving in what’s now the U.S.

3 Christopher Columbus


also is Columbus Day—speaking of “firsts.”
We’ve chosen a somewhat somber image of the explorer’s face (at right) because Columbus’ reputation certainly has evolved in recent years. That’s especially true since 1992, when 500-year events, books, films and news coverage alerted Americans to many of the tragic effects of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. That impact included devastating disease, which Columbus and his European followers couldn’t help. There also was a hugely important exchange of crops and animals. For example, American Indians didn’t have horses until Europeans brought them across the Atlantic Ocean.

Some regions in the U.S. have taken official action in light of Columbus’ treatment of Indians. In South Dakota, the day is now Native American Day, instead. Some island communities also have changed the day—so, for example, there’s now a “Puerto Rican-Virgin Islands Friendship Day” instead of a day honoring the explorer.

We aren’t drawing a judgment on Columbus’ legacy in this brief Spiritual Season column, but we do know that some groups—including Italian-American immigrants—still consider this son of Genoa to be a heroic explorer. Here’s an in-depth overview of Columbus, including links to lots of other aspects of his life story. And, here’s a look at the history of Columbus Day, including some regional adaptations.
Oh, and for our Scandinavian readers? Yes, indeed, last week we did include Leif Erikson Day in our Spiritual Season column!

4 World Food Day

On FRIDAY, World Food Day asks us to: “Imagine achieving food security in time of crisis.” That is this year’s theme for this thought-provoking observance, focused on the world’s hungry—and the world’s food producers. The best way to describe the focus of this special day is to share a brief excerpt from this year’s Web site:

“At a time when the global economic crisis dominates the news, the world needs to be reminded that not everyone works in offices and factories. The crisis is stalking the small-scale farms and rural areas of the world, where 70 percent of the world’s hungry live and work.

“With an estimated increase of 105 million hungry people in 2009, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger. …

“On the occasion of World Food Week and World Food Day 2009, let us reflect on those numbers and the human suffering behind them. Crisis or no crisis, we have the know-how to do something about hunger. We also have the ability to find money to solve problems when we consider them important. Let us work together to make sure hunger is recognized as a critical problem, and solve it.”

5a Lord Mahavra 1900 painting


ATURDAY, Diwali—“The Festival of Lights”—is a major holiday across India, marked by Hindus and also Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. It’s a beautiful, festive time of the year for Indian families and the spiritual theme at the heart of Diwali is reminding ourselves of the triumphant power of the inner light within each of us.

On that level, this is an easy observance to appreciate for Christians, since light is a major Christian symbol for letting one’s life shine as an example to the whole community.
In India, there are many inspiring stories retold by devotees on Dewali. The general Wikipedia entry (the link above) outlines some of those stories.

Jains, for example, recall Lord Mahavira on Diwali. This ancient figure, who lived about six centuries before the birth of Jesus, is credited with gathering together the sacred teachings that form Jainism. That’s a painting of Mahavira at right (the top photo today shows Diwali lamps). You’ll notice that he’s depicted in the circular image without clothing. Mahavira modeled such a deep compassion for the world’s creatures that he did not want to harm any living thing—and renounced most normal human desires, including the desire for his own home, personal possessions and clothing.

That’s just one faith’s special emphasis during this festive time of year. Hindu families focus on beautiful displays of lights and flowers—often crafting multi-colored lanterns for the festival. But, it’s not all peace and quiet! Firecrackers are a popular tradition—and well-scrubbed children in new clothes for the holiday may wind up jolting older people with their noise throughout the day!

This is a harvest-time festival in India, so it carries all the thankfulness of another hard growing season coming to an end. In some areas, communities produce plays and other stage productions to enjoy beloved stories together.

5b Rangoli

Given this emphasis on socializing and hospitality, this is an auspicious time for the creation of Rangoli—or traditional Indian sand paintings. Women might wake up early on Diwali and go just outside their homes to create a colorful pattern to greet neighbors and visitors. Courtesy of The Holiday Spot, here’s a great page about making Rangoli, including examples of traditional imagery and detailed descriptions of how the brightly hued powders are used to sketch the elaborate designs. (There’s a particularly elaborate Rangoli image at left that resembles folk-art patterns one might find in American quilts.)

To our Indian readers: Enjoy the lights, festivities and hospitality! Or, as one popular Diwali greeting card puts it: We’re wishing you a glittering Diwali!

6 King Vikramaditya


is a New Year! Most Westerners will be surprised to hear that, but it’s true for some Indians and Nepalese. Think of it this way: Are you afraid of the mystical conspiracy theories buzzing around the media, these days, about all the disasters coming in the year 2012? Well, the world has quite a few different calendars and, on Sunday, many people in India will celebrate the start of the year 2066!

This system of recording time is called the Vikram (or Bikram) Samwat, a calendar created by the legendary ruler Vikramaditya during his legendary reign in the ancient city of Ujjain in central-western India. This great ruler tried to “reset” the world’s timekeeping after a major victory over his enemies in what was then 56 BCE. Since that time, the lunar calendar he established is now about 56-to-57 years “ahead” of the Gregorian calendar.
The photo at right shows how the king was portrayed in one of the Indian movies that retell his epic tale.


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