Ascension of the Lord (Ascension of Jesus): Christians observe ancient feast

Stained-glass, Ascension of Jesus

A stained-glass image of the Ascension of Jesus. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 26: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. On this date—or, as some Roman Catholic churches will hold services on the Sunday following, along with some regional Ecclesiastical provinces—Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

Did you know? In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of the Lord is ranked as a solemnity and is a Holy Day of Obligation; in the Anglican Communion, Ascension Day is a Principal Feast.

MOUNT OF OLIVES & THE ASCENSION

On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop.

Note: In the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ takes place on June 2, in accordance with 40 days after Pascha (Easter).

Declaration of the Bab and Ascension of Baha’u’llah: Baha’is celebrate two holy days

TUESDAY, MAY 24 and SUNDAY, MAY 29: In the Baha’i calendar, there are 11 holy days each year—nine of which have work and school suspended—and two of those days are observed this week, with the Declaration of the Bab on May 24 and the Ascension of Baha’u’llah on May 29. The Declaration of the Bab marks the anniversary of the Bab’s announcement of his mission, in 1844; the Ascension of Baha’u’llah recalls the passing of Baha’u’llah, in 1892.

DECLARATION OF THE BAB, ‘THE GATE’

Declaration of the Bab, shrine

Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Baha’i communities across the globe commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab, made in 1844. Though the roots of this story began decades earlier—in 1783, precisely—it was not until this pivotal night that the Bab correctly answered a series of questions that revealed he was the “Promised One.”

According to Baha’i tradition: The search for the Promised One, or “the Gate,” began years before the Bab’s birth, with a man named Shaykh Ahmad-i-ahsa’i. This man began traveling through Persia with the announcement that a great day was coming: a day that would see a Promised One. Later, a follower of his teachings—Mulla Husayn—would find the Bab. (For details, visit Bahai.org.)

Though the identity of the Promised One remained secret, it was through a series of descriptions, questions answered and seemingly impossible tasks accomplished that a Persian merchant named Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi convinced Mulla Husayn that he was the bearer of divine knowledge. This evening is now celebrated by Baha’is as the Declaration of the Bab. (For a meditative prayer set to music, visit New York Bahai.)

Following the 1844 proclamations, which were later made public, Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi took the name “the Bab” (Arabic for “gate”) and began writing. The Bab penned his messianic claims, teachings and new religious law. In a few short years, the Bab had acquired thousands of followers. Starkly opposed by other clergy and the government, thousands of Babis were persecuted and killed.

In 1850, at the age of 30, the Bab was executed by a firing squad—though not before finding Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith and the messenger of God whom the Bab had spoken of.

ASCENSION OF BAHA’U’LLAH, THE ‘PROMISED ONE’

Shrine of Baha'u'llah, entrance

An entrance to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A prisoner of decades, a man who penned almost 100 volumes and changed the interfaith world is commemorated today, on the Baha’i observance of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah.

The founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah lived in Persia but was buried in Bahji, in the shrine where his body still lies, in 1892 CE. For this solemn holy day, many Baha’is attend a service or study the writings of Baha’u’llah.

Did you know? Baha’i gardens are designed to symbolize the order of the world in the future. Baha’u’llah wrote often of the unity necessary for peace in the future.

From the time he first heard about the Bab and the emerging Badi faith, Baha’u’llah became a follower. At age 27, Baha’u’llah was visited by a messenger of the Bab and accepted the Badi faith. The next several decades would be filled with exile, imprisonment and tumult, as Baha’u’llah expanded upon the claims of the Bab and began writing volumes of his own.

The Bab taught that Baha’u’llah was the Promised One, and that he had been but the Gate for Baha’u’llah.

LETTERS, TABLETS AND PROPHESIES: Through his years of exile and imprisonment, Baha’u’llah wrote large volumes, personal tablets and even letters for kings and rulers of the time, urging them to resist greed and anger in favor of peace. Many of the leaders—from a Russian czar to Napoleon III of France—disregarded Baha’u’llah’s warnings. Baha’u’llah predicted that if these leaders did not resolve their differences and halt the insatiable desire for land, materials and power, they would fall—and, one by one, the leaders realized the fate that Baha’u’llah had warned against.

Today, approximately 6 million Baha’is in 192 countries and territories across the globe observe this holy day. For the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, the faithful reflect on the messages of unity—and Baha’u’llah’s suggestion that all of the world’s major religions derive from the same source, in unity, as part of the same family.

Lag B’Omer: Jews count 33rd day in the Omer with bonfires, parades

Lag BaOmer, New York

Lag B’Omer in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Several seconds, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 18: Enormous bonfires blaze against the night sky across Israel and in Jewish communities worldwide, for Lag B’Omer (or Lag BaOmer; spellings may vary). During daylight hours, celebrants venture outdoors for picnics and children’s activities, while the commemorations of Lag BaOmer are twofold: the holiday marks the end of an ancient plague and, duly, the passing of the mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. On Lag BaOmer, thousands of Jews gather in Meron, Israel, at the tomb of Bar Yochai.

s'more Lag B'Omer

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Literally 33rd day in the Omer, Lag BaOmer marks traditional anniversaries in the Jewish calendar. Between Passover and Shavuot, Jews are, per the Torah, obligated to count the days. (Learn more from Judaism 101.) The omer is a unit of measure, and each night from the second of Passover until Shavuot, Jews recite a blessing and count the omer in both weeks and days. During this period, men and women recall a plague that struck during the time of Rabbi Akiba; haircuts, weddings and parties are put on hold. On Lag BaOmer, the mourning restrictions are lifted.

Fun fact: S’mores are permitted on Lag B’Omer! Read more at Aish.com.

The Talmud relates that during the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague hit Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, because of their disrespectful conduct toward one another. On Lag BaOmer, the dying ceased and, among the surviving students, was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Later, he became the most esteemed teacher of the Torah in his generation. He penned the classic mystic text, the Zohar, still revered by those who study Kabbalah. Today, the importance of love and respect is emphasized on Lag BaOmer, as is the great “light” that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai brought to the world.

Some also are emphasizing Lag BaOmer as an anniversary of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. In Israel today, Lag BaOmer is marked in varying ways. In 2004, the Israeli government began designating Lag BaOmer as a day for honoring the Israeli Defense Forces reserves.

Mother’s Day: Americans celebrate and express gratitude for Mom

Mom child embracing Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

SUNDAY, MAY 8: Say “Thanks!” to Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day!

Although motherhood has been celebrated for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day—the one we all know today—began in 1908 with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the whole country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s. This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

Though American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, Jarvis’s campaigns were the first to make it beyond the local level. The first “official” Mother’s Day service was actually a memorial ceremony, held at Jarvis’s church, in 1908; the 500 carnations given out at that first celebration have given way to the widespread custom of distributing carnations to mothers on this day. For Anna, the floral choice was easy: Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers.

Pink carnation close-up, Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

Did you know? Mother’s Day yields the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Most churches honor their congregation’s mothers in some way—with a special prayer, perhaps, or (in many congregations) with a flower.

MOTHER’S DAY: FROM ANCIENT ORIGINS TO TODAY

While the modern observance of Mother’s Day began just a century ago, celebrations for women and mothers have been common throughout history. Greeks worshipped the mother goddess Cybele, while the Romans held the festival of Hilaria; Christians have observed Mothering Sunday for centuries, while Hindus have honored “Mata Tirtha Aunshi,” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.” The first American attempts for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” arose in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to support disarmament in the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Several decades later, Anna Jarvis created a holiday that became the Mother’s Day we know today.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, though, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable: Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar.

Today, Mother’s Day is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls. Yet it is with Mom in mind that Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers annually for Mother’s Day; $1.53 billion on gifts; and $68 million on greeting cards. We love you, Mom!

FOR MOM: DIY, GIFTS THAT GIVE & MORE

  • Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.
  • Care to care more? The Mother’s Day Movement supports women and girls in the developing world, with the belief that empowered women strongly impact the lives of their children and their communities. Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day.
  • A good read: Columnist Bobbie Lewis writes about the importance of actually setting aside time to talk to Mom and to listen to her. She calls her story Questions Left Unanswered; Stories Left Untold. Simple. And, a great idea.

Eid al-Fitr: Muslims mark the end of Ramadan, usher in Shawwal with ‘Sweet Eid’

Eid al-Fitr prayers

Muslims in Iran celebrate Eid al-Fitr. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SUNDAY, MAY 1 or SUNSET MONDAY, MAY 2 (date may vary by country and moon sighting): The official date for the enormous celebration of the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, will not be announced until April 30 in many Muslim-majority countries and by the Saudi Arabian moon-sighting committee, but followers of the Islamic faith are expecting to usher in the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast at sunset on Monday, May 1 or Tuesday, May 2. In several countries, Eid al-Fitr is a multi-day festival, as the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to the month of Shawwal. (Note: Spellings vary, and you may see the holiday alternatively spelled Eid ul-Fitr, as well.)

Did you know? Eid Sa’id! is a common greeting, meaning, happy Eid!

EID AL-FITR: FROM SUNRISE TO SUNSET

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.

Government buildings, schools and businesses close in Muslim countries as everyone visits family and friends, dines on sweet treats and joyfully greets passersby. In many regions, festivities will continue for three days; in some regions, festivities can last up to nine days.

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.

AROUND THE WORLD: FROM THE UK TO ASIA TO AFRICA

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.

Easter, Pascha: Christians worldwide revel in the Resurrection

Resurrection three crucifixes

Photo by geralt, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 17 and SUNDAY, APRIL 24: Raise the lights, ring the church bells and joyously sing “Alleluia”—it’s Easter! (For Eastern Orthodox Christians, who will celebrate this event on April 24 this year, the holiday is known as Pascha.) Christians the world over shout in exultation on Easter Sunday, as the faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Western Christians across the globe revel in the Resurrection of Jesus today, rejoicing in the promise of new life. Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and the Easter Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—Christians awaken to a new day. Donning their finest clothing in pastel hues, more than 1 billion men, women and children head to church for the festive Easter service, which often showcases shining brass instruments and rows of blossoming Easter lilies.

Did you know? The week beginning on Easter Sunday is known as Easter Week, or the Octave of Easter.

The New Testament tells Christians that the Resurrection of Christ is the core of their faith, and on this grand day, crowds flow into and out of churches, bells are rung in praise and adherents joyously profess their faith.

Stone rolled away from tomb, Easter

Photo by BRBurton23, courtesy of Pixabay

A TOMB AND A HOLY MESSENGER

Gospel accounts say that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene (and, though accounts vary, other women as well) traveled to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, an earthquake shook the ground; the stone was moved from the tomb, and a holy messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though no specific moment of Resurrection is recorded, Mary Magdalene’s encounter has, since the 2nd century, been celebrated as Easter. The Resurrection is described as having occurred c. 30 CE.

For Christians today, meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also would typically feature lamb—a symbol of Christ, the Paschal Lamb. However, Easter hams now far outpace cuts of lamb.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

SECULAR EASTER: CANDIES & EGGS

Eggs for Easter

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer, courtesy of Flickr

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection. Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families.

EGGS: The springtime egg has symbolized the season’s new life since before the life of Jesus, drawing back to ancient civilizations. Nonetheless, the egg holds a place of prominence in many secular Easter traditions. Children around the globe search for hidden eggs, and decorating eggs can range from simple to elaborate—as much as the artist allows. International chocolatiers mold sweet concoctions in the shape of delicate eggs, with the most exquisite replications selling for hundreds of dollars.

RECIPES & RESOURCES

Looking for a great recipe or ideas to spruce up your Easter table?

Find delicious recipes, from appetizers to brunch to dessert, at Food Network and AllRecipes.

Give eggs extra style, or try an Easter craft, with ideas from HGTV and Martha Stewart.

Kid-friendly Easter coloring pages, cards, games and more are at the UK’s Activity Village.

EASTER MONDAY NEWS: In the United States, the day following Easter Sunday—known as Easter Monday—has been host to the White House’s traditional Easter Egg Roll for more than 140 years; however, due to the pandemic, the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021. According to reports, President Biden’s administration will bring back the tradition once again, on Easter Monday in 2022. (Fox News has the story.)

Easter Triduum: Christians observe Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday

Easter Triduum

Photo by Bradiporap, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, APRIL 14; FRIDAY, APRIL 15; and SATURDAY, APRIL 16: 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.

Washing foot, Maundy Thursday

Washing feet on Maundy Thursday at Westminster Cathedral. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

MAUNDY OR HOLY THURSDAY

According to Christian tradition, the Last Supper that Jesus held on the night before his death was the establishment of the Eucharist—the foundation of the Christian sacrament shared by more than 2 billion Christians around the world. Even though specific liturgical customs do vary between the branches of this worldwide faith, the basic sacred tradition stems from the Gospel verses describing Jesus’s last meal with his followers. The New Testament also describes Jesus washing the feet of his followers on this night, so foot washing also widely practiced on Maundy or Holy Thursday.

As Jesus and his disciples left their upper room, they traveled out of the Old City of Jerusalem and to the Garden of Gethsemane. Before sunrise, Jesus would be betrayed and the events of Good Friday would begin.

Did you know? Most scholars believe that the term maundy derives from the Latin ‘to command,’ referring to Jesus’ command to the disciples that they love one another, announced when he washed their feet.

Each Maundy Thursday in the Catholic church, a daytime Chrism Mass takes place and a new stock of holy oil is blessed. Following the evening liturgy, the holy water is removed from all stoups—and all hangings and vestments are changed to black (or another Lenten color). Bells will remain silent until Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil.

GOOD FRIDAY:
PASSION PLAYS, STATIONS OF THE CROSS

The day laden with darkness and lamentation has arrived, as Christians recall the somber events of Good Friday—Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. Between two criminals sentenced to death by Roman authorities, Jesus hung on a crucifix for six excruciating hours. During the last three hours, Gospels account that darkness fell over the land; at approximately 3 p.m., Jesus gave up his spirit and died. Such dramatic natural events occurred that the centurion on guard at the site of the crucifixion announced, “Truly this was God’s Son!”

Close-up of Jesus on wooden cross

Photo by Didgeman, courtesy of Pixabay

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a strict fast day: only one full meal or two small meals is permitted, and the faithful abstain from meat and joyful activities. Many gather at church to pray the Stations of the Cross, painfully recalling each step on Jesus’ path to the crucifixion site. Some devotees attend a prayer service known as the Three Hours’ Agony, and it’s not uncommon for Passion plays and processions to reenact the day’s events. In Rome, the Pope or Vatican representatives will lead meditations on the Stations of the Cross while a crucifix is carried to the Colosseum. Good Friday is a public or government holiday in many countries of the world, and the stock market is closed.

By tradition dating to 1361 CE, currant-filled, glazed hot cross buns are eaten for breakfast on Good Friday morning. The glaze forms a cross on the bun, signifying the day’s focus. (You can find a wonderful hot cross bun recipe in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.)

HOLY SATURDAY:
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Terms and traditions for this Saturday vary widely across Christianity. For millions of American Protestants, this Saturday is simply a good occasion to clean the house and prepare treats for Easter dinner. Very little is said about this day in the vast majority of mainline Protestant and evangelical churches. However, Holy Saturday liturgies are ancient traditions in the Catholic church, Orthodox churches and others around the world.

In Eastern tradition, one of the most beautiful and unusual of icons is used in Saturday liturgies, called the Epitaphios. This icon is made of fabric and represents a kind of burial shroud, showing Jesus’s body being prepared for burial. On “Great and Holy Saturday,” the Epitaphios is carried in a procession around the church.

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.

Note: Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar will observe Holy Week one week after the Western Christian Holy Week in 2022, with the Eastern Pascha (Easter) falling on April 24.