Hanuman Jayanti: Hindus celebrate the half-human, half-monkey devotee of Lord Rama

Hanuman, for Hanuman Jayanti

Celebrating Hanuman Jayanti in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo by Mahant Brijbhushan Das, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, APRIL 23: In many regions of India, today marks is the annual celebration of the birth of deity that is one-half human, and one-half monkey: It is Hanuman Jayanti.

Ever a steadfast and ardent devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman often is honored along with Lord Rama; devotees of Hanuman hope to obtain his strength and energy. The Ramayana and other texts detail his crediting all superhuman powers to Lord Rama, labeling himself only as a servant of the deity. According to Times Now, Hanuman is one of the most popular deities in Hinduism.

NEWS: This year, Hanuman Jayanti is considered particularly auspicious, since it falls on a Tuesday. According to Hindu scriptures, Tuesdays are regarded as very auspicious days for seeking the blessings of Lord Hanuman.


It is believed that Hanuman can assume any form, yet most notably, Hanuman is known for his humility. On his jayanti, Hindus across India flock to Hanuman temples, recite Hanuman Chalisa (song of Hanuman) and apply a reddish-orange tilaka to their foreheads, signifying the color of Hanuman.

Festivities for Hanuman Jayanti begin early, with pujas, trips to the temple and special prayers. Prayers and hymns continue throughout the day, as devotees look to Lord Hanuman to avert evil, bring courage and deliver willpower. Many Hindus fast and read the Hunuman Chalisa on his jayanti, before joining in Prasad—an offering of food distributed among devotees.

Did you know? Hanuman avatar is considered the 11th Rudra avatar of Lord Siva.

Sri Hanuman enjoys great popularity in India, and the deity also is well known in Hindu communities worldwide. In Trinidad and Tobago, Hanuman statues reach 15-, 25- and even 85-foot.

Passover: Jews prepare seders for a Pesach ‘different from all other nights’

Passover seder table

A table set for a Passover seder. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 22: Tonight, Jews begin the joyous and deeply reflective festival of Passoverthe most widely observed of all Jewish traditions.

Passover Basics

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

A few years ago, as Holidays & Festivals columnist for ReadTheSpirit magazine, I wrote an extensive Holidays section of the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters book called 100 Questions and Answers About American Jews with a Guide to Jewish Holidays.

Here is part of what I wrote in that book, which now is widely used by individuals and groups nationwide who want to know more about our neighbors’ faiths and cultures:

For eight days, starting with 15 Nissan, Passover recalls the ancient Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt. During Passover, Jewish families are reminded of when their ancestors were slaves in Egypt. Prior to the start of Passover, it is traditional for observant Jews to clean their homes so that not even a crumb of leavened food, or chametz, is present. While only one Seder is conducted in Israel, outside of Israel the first two nights of Passover have a Seder—a meal with symbolic foods, prayers, stories, songs and activities. In some homes, the Seder can last deep into the night. Most Jewish communities also offer “model Seders” for non-Jews who want to learn about this experience prior to Passover.

Many non-Jews are familiar from movies and TV shows with some of the Passover customs, such as the moment when the youngest in the household asks Four Questions, beginning with: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Passover usually is experienced as a family reunion, a history lesson, an affirmation of survival and a time of reflecting on ways to help the vulnerable.


Matzah ball soup is traditional at Passover—and, this year, our magazine includes a personal story by author Rusty Rosman about making her traditional soup in a way that allows her transport it across country to family. gatherings.

Among the events in the biblical story recalled during the seder, Jews give thanks to G_d for “passing over” the homes of those whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood during the biblical Plague of the Firstborn, for helping them to escape safely from Egypt’s army and for eventually leading them to freedom.

Why is it so important to get rid of leavened products during this time?

According to Exodus, as the Israelites left Egypt they moved so quickly that their bread was not able to rise. To this day, unleavened matzah (spellings vary) is a staple element on seder tables and a symbol of this ancient festival.

Did you know? Matzo is made from flour and water that is mixed and baked in 18 minutes—to prevent the dough from rising. As matzo is such an important element of Passover, many Jews are trying to revive the art of homemade matzo. Baking matzo is a challenge; only 18 minutes are allowed between the mixing of flour and water to the finishing of baking. Elaborate measures are taken to ensure the mixture does not rise.

Throughout the holiday period, and in more traditionally observant households, the dishes and baking tools used for the Passover seder are reserved only for this time and have never come into contact with chametz. So, in many households—and in institutions that keep Kosher—there can be an enormous amount of preparation involved. In some cases, institutional ovens are “changed out” before the holiday period to ensure that cooks are using Kosher-for-Passover stoves. Most Kosher homes don’t have that luxury, so they go through an elaborate process of cleansing stoves before the holiday.

A lot of work goes into Passover!

During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. On the second day of Passover, keeping track of the omer—an ancient unit of measure—marks the days from Passover to Shavuot.

Vaisakhi, Baisahki: Sikhs, Indians around the world commemorate faith & ancient festival

Baisakhi celebration, Sikh

A celebration for Baisakhi in New Delhi. Photo by Public.Resource.Org, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, APRIL 21: Around the world today, Indian communities and Sikhs are celebrating Vaisakhi (or Baisahki; spellings vary), an occasion for colorful processions and public festivals. From the Vancouver Vaisahi Parade and Festival (CBC News has a video of this year’s celebration, here) to London (read more from the BBC) to New York (watch interviews and more in a video of this year’s celebrations, courtesy of Spectrum News 1) Sikhs worldwide are enjoying the spirit of this holiday.

Did you know? The festival’s name refers to a month in the traditional Hindu calendar: Vaisakha.

In India, Vaisakhi holds varying meanings in different regions. First, this was an ancient agricultural festival in the Punjab; a time of prayers for bountiful crops. In the Punjab region (and among families with Punjabi roots around the world), it is an ancient agricultural festival and a time for prayers for bountiful crops; one custom is an energetic dance called Bhangra, which dates back centuries. Hundreds of years ago, while farmers were preparing to reap a harvest of wheat at this time of year, men would pause to perform this dance. The Bhangra has moved through several different eras and forms, according to scholars of Indian folklore. Today, there is a modern revival of the practice, complete with colorful costumes, that is often performed at Vaisakhi festivals.


Though celebrated by many, Vaisakhi holds particular significance for Sikhs who, in 1699, established the Khalsa. On Vaisakhi Day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh emerged from a tent before thousands, asking for five volunteers willing to give their lives. Armed with a sword, the Guru took in the first volunteer; a few minutes later, the Guru emerged from the tent again, his sword covered in blood. By the time five volunteers had come forward, the Guru revealed his true intentions: to call forth a “Beloved Five,” who would be baptized into a new order known as the Khalsa. The five volunteers exited from the tent—unharmed and wearing turbans. To this day, Sikhism incorporates a readiness to fight for justice by protecting the vulnerable.


Tens of thousands of Sikhs journey to holy sites each year for Vaisakhi—one city even bears the name of the first Sikh Guru, Nanak. Thousands more flock to the birthplace of the Khalsa, as well as to the famed Golden Temple at Amritsar. Sikhs in the United States can travel to Los Angeles, California for an entire day of Kirtan (spiritual music based on the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib) and a large-scale parade; in Manhattan, New York City, Sikhs flood into the streets to perform seva (selfless service) of charity.

Further north, Canadians in British Columbia parade through the streets for Vaisakhi, often drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees to the festivities. The UK boasts its own sizeable Sikh population, though most adherents can be found in west London; events there draw tens of thousands of attendees.

Ridvan: Baha’is observe ‘most great festival,’ starting on First Day of Ridvan

Baha'i temple, Ridvan

A Baha’i temple, in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Michael Lackovich, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, APRIL 20: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan—and it starts today, with the First Day of Ridvan.

Named “Ridvan” for “paradise,” this sacred festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s time in the Najibiyyih Garden. After he was exiled by the Ottoman Empire, Baha’u’llah spent time in this garden and, here, made the first announcement of his prophethood. For Baha’is, Ridvan is the “King of Festivals,” and the first, ninth and 12th days are occasions for work and school to be suspended.


The story of Ridvan actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, with a man who called himself “the Bab” (translated, the Gate). The year was 1844 CE when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, of Shiraz, made the proclamation that he was the Bab—and that a Messianic figure was coming. Nine years later, the man known as Baha’u’llah experienced a revelation while imprisoned in Tehran, Iran: he was the Promised One foretold of by the Bab.

After release from prison, Baha’u’llah settled in Baghdad, which was becoming the center of the Babi (followers of the Bab) movement. Though he made no open claims related to his revelation, Baha’u’llah slowly began attracting more and more Babi followers. The growing Babi community, along with Baha’u’llah’s increasing popularity, caused the government to exile Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library Online.) After having packed his things, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih garden to both receive visitors and allow his family sufficient time to pack for the journey.

Precisely 31 days after Naw-Ruz, on April 22, 1863, Baha’u’llah moved to a garden across the Tigris River from Baghdad with his sons, secretary and a few others. In the Najibiyyih Garden, Baha’u’llah announced his prophetic mission to a small group of close friends and family. In addition, Baha’ullah made three announcements: that religious war was not permissible; that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the ninth day, the rest of his family joined him; on the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.


During Ridvan, those of the Baha’i community gather, pray and hold celebrations.

In addition, Local Spiritual Assemblies—that is, the governing bodies of Baha’i communities worldwide—are elected on the first day of Ridvan.

NEWS: Notre Dame Law School recently held its third annual Interfaith Dinner, noting the observance of multiple holidays, including Ridvan. Read more here.

Eid al-Fitr is coming, most likely on April 10! So, cue the trays of sweet treats!

SUNDOWN, TUESDAY APRIL 9, Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr starting WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10—That’s the schedule most Muslim communities in the U.S. are counting on in 2024. Muslim groups at major universities, for example, are pointing to Wednesday the 10th for their big Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

However, Ramadan traditionally is marked by sightings of the moon in regions around the world, so the dates could vary somewhat. One example is India, where The Times of India recently reported that the Eid al-Fitr is likely to begin on April 11 this year—at least in some regions of the country.

Also varying around the world is the length of the Eid celebration, which can be observed for between one and three days—and some parts of the world continue the Eid for up to a week!

This is usually a joyous time, starting with huge communal prayers on the first morning of the Eid. At many mosques and Muslim community centers, huge trays of sweet treats are passed around—because just as fasting is mandated during the day during Ramadan, eating is required after the fast ends. The good cheer and good eating traditionally continues through gatherings with family and friends—and big daytime meals for the first time in a month.

One Muslim leader likes to say: “Think of American Thanksgiving extended across a couple of days.”


Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. A small breakfast—usually including dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque (or, in some cases, an open square or field). In the mosques, open squares and fields, Muslims pray in unison; following prayers, feasting commences.

Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and many adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE. 

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast and Bajram, to name just a few.


With nearly one-quarter of the world’s population observing the Islamic faith, countries around the world are preparing their banks, airlines, shops, business hours and public services for the major holiday.

Unlike most Muslim holidays, which may or may not be observed by all Muslims each year, the two Eid holidays—Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr—are commemorated universally.

In the UK, some of the largest festivals of the year will take place for the Eid holidays.

Did you know?
In Egypt, Eid ul-Fitr is an occasion for neighborhood carnivals; in Asia, a celebratory dish contains toasted sweet vermicelli noodles and dried fruit; in Saudi Arabia, wealthy families buy large quantities of rice and other staples and leave them anonymously on the doorsteps of those less fortunate.

Looking for Eid recipes?
Sweet and savory selections are available courtesy of the BBC. For sweet recipes, check out NPR.org.




It’s a $22-billion Easter for most Americans in 2024

SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2024 and SUNDAY, MAY 5—It’s Easter! Twice this year—as usual—although the entire Christian world will be united next year on April 20, 2025, and again in the spring of 2028.

Despite many years of discussions about unifying the worldwide celebration of Easter, Christian leaders remain far apart in what continues to be known as the Easter Controversy. In truth, it’s more of a controversy in other parts of the world—because across the United States Easter is almost universally assumed to be March 31 this year.

Doubt that? Just ask Hallmark and a host of the nation’s largest retailers. The National Retail Federation’s annual report on Easter spending says:

Consumer spending is expected to reach a total of $22.4 billion this Easter—the second highest in the survey’s history, after last year’s record-setting $24 billion when the holiday fell nine days later in the year. … Consumers plan to spend an average of $177.06 per person on top items like candy, food, gifts and clothing this year.

Of course, the religious meaning of Easter has nothing to do with chocolate.

Here are the major milestones leading to (Western) Easter

Western Christians across the globe entered Holy Week on Palm Sunday, and begin the Easter Triduum—recounting the final days of Jesus’s life and Passion—on Thursday, with Holy (Maundy) Thursday.


The Paschal Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles.

Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. Following the Maundy Thursday service, in most Christian denominations, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries.

Did you know? In Bulgaria, Easter eggs must be painted on Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday in the early morning, before sunrise. The first painted egg must be red. 

At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.


Stick crosses Good Friday

Photo courtesy of Pickpik


While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and, eventually, to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated.

EXTRA: Joseph Haydn composed “The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour On the Cross,” commissioned in 1785 or 1786 for the Good Friday service at Cádiz Cathedral in Spain. Listen to it here.

In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday (find a recipe here).



Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Traditionally, the altar remains bare or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

THE EASTER VIGIL—In the evening on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

‘Stopping by …’ Robert Frost’s poetry to mark his sesquicentennial

Robert Frost in about 1910. (Photo in public domain.)

ON MARCH 26, 1874, Robert Frost was born not in New England, as many of his readers may assume, but in San Francisco. In fact, he did not become a New England farmer until 1900, when his grandfather gave him and his wife Elinor a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. He had suffered from ill health during his studies at Harvard and his family assumed that moving to a farm might improve his health. In fact, contrary to popular assumptions, Frost was a terrible farmer at first.

Of course, farming fueled much of his poetic vision, which eventually led to his becoming the only poet ever to win four Pulitzer Prizes. (He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 31 times, but never won that award.)

His legacy has shaped American culture in countless ways, including during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, countless references in films and TV shows and in the works of such best-selling novelists as George R.R. Martin and Stephenie Meyer. And, he was a huge influence on the life and work of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky.

To mark this milestone, and the publication of a special new selection of Frost’s most beloved poems by the Library of America, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm wrote this tribute to Frost (and Brodsky’s promotion of Frost) in Goodreads, headlined: Sharing Poetic Pointers with Old Friends