Rosh Hashanah: Happy (Jewish) New Year 5783!

rosh hashanah shofar

Blowing the shofar for Rosh Hashanah. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25: Rich dishes made with honey, paired with blasts from the shofar, mean it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—and it’s also the start of the High Holidays.

Do you know someone who is Jewish? Wish him or her L’shanah tovah—“For a good year!”

On the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by Jews around the world. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year,” or “first of the year,” and many Jews use this period of time to make resolutions and commitments for self-improvement.

Compared with secular New Year celebrations, writes Rabbi Lenore Bohm in this inspiring reflection on the holiday, “the Jewish New Year, while joyful, is spiritual, thoughtful, and reflective.  We try to remember, not forget.  We visit the graves of loved ones. We look for opportunities to be especially generous and charitable. We gather with close friends and family for delicious, home-cooked meals.  We express hope that we have grown in the year gone by.” (You’ll also enjoy the list of holiday questions Rabbi Bohm lists at the end of her column, which all of us—whatever our faith—would benefit from asking.)

On Rosh Hashanah, work is not permitted and many more traditional adherents spend the day in the synagogue. The shofar, a ram’s horn blown like a trumpet, is one of the holiday’s most famous symbols—but Rosh Hoshanah also comes with special readings and prayers for a good new year.

HONEY, APPLES AND BREAD: A SWEET NEW YEAR

rosh hashanah apple honey

An apple and honey, fare for Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Vladimir Gladkov, courtesy of Pexels

Of the sweet foods consumed on Rosh Hashanah, none is more popular than honey. Jerusalem, biblically referred to as “the land of milk and honey,” is yet another reason to eat honey on this special holiday. Jewish families like to serve apples or bread dipped in honey, or create dishes that incorporate these ingredients.

What are the High Holidays? Sometimes referred to as “High Holidays,” or “High Holy Days,” this is the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and usually the phrase includes the 10 days in between. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the new year begins and finally, on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

EXTRAS: BRISKET AND HONEY

Fifteen traditions: Reader’s Digest reported 15 must-observe traditions for Rosh Hashanah this year.

Want to make a perfect brisket? It’s a holiday favorite in many Jewish homes, and FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis (with guest writer Debbi Eber) tackles the tips and techniques for a perfect brisket dinner.

Sweet recipes: Looking to bake up something sweet and scrumptious this Rosh Hashanah? Try the Huffington Post’s 21 recipes with honey and apples; or forward.com’s granola baked apples. For an entire menu of Rosh Hashanah recipes, check out AllRecipes, Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

Equinox and Mabon (Imbolc): Welcome, autumn!

autumn, mabon equinox

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 and THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: Take a deep breath of crisp, autumn air and savor the warm spices of the season, as (respectively) Pagans celebrate Mabon and people around the Northern Hemisphere mark the autumnal equinox. For Pagans and Wiccans, Mabon is a type of Thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts of harvest; it is a time to seek blessings for the approaching winter months. Equinox, a celestial event, occurs twice per year and is so named because the length of day and night are (almost exactly) equal.

Did you know? The equinox phenomenon can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis, such as Saturn.

MABON: FROM CIDERS AND BREADS TO PINE CONES AND GOURDS

pumpkin spice latte autumn

Try a DIY, healthy version of a pumpkin spice latte! Feel Good Foodie has the recipe, at left. Photo by Maryam Samadi, courtesy of Pexels

“Everything autumn” sums up the fare, symbols and activities of Mabon, as Pagans and Wiccans offer cider, wines and warming herbs and spices to gods and goddesses. Druids call this time Mea’n Fo’mhair, while Wiccans celebrate the Second Harvest Festival, decorating altars with pine cones, gourds, corn, apples and other autumn elements.

As a time and season of mysteries, Wiccans recognize the aging of the goddess and visit ancestors’ graves, decorating them with leaves, acorns and other elements of fall. Tables are covered in feasts of breads, root vegetables and apple cider, as scents of cinnamon and nutmeg fill the air. Families gather, and preparations are made for the coming winter months.

Make it yourself! Whip up a homemade, healthy version of a pumpkin spice latte, with a recipe courtesy of Feel Good Foodie.

Looking for an autumn activity? Take a walk through the woods, while enjoying the bold colors of autumn; alternatively, make a horn of plenty that will grace the home through the season. Kids can create corn husk dolls (courtesy of Martha Stewart), and homes can smell like fall with the addition of scented pine cones (get a DIY here, from HGTV).

Autumn-ready home: For tips on fall decorating as well as helpful tips for the season, check out articles from HGTV. For style tips and ideas from the UK, check out this article from Country Living.

Labor Day: Americans celebrate end of summer and recall nation’s labor history

Labor Day women

Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union march in a Labor Day parade. From the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library. Photo by Kheel Center, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: Parades, barbecues and travel abound this Labor Day weekend, but alongside the festivities, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers. Labor Day is the result of the long struggle for recognition by the American labor movement; the first Labor Day celebration, celebrated in 1882 in New York City, attracted more than 10,000 workers who marched through the streets. Beyond recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day makes us aware of the countless workers who have, together, contributed to the strength and prosperity of their country.

CHILD LABOR AND DANGEROUS CONDITIONS

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans had to work 12-hour days every day of the week to make a living. Child labor was at its height in mills, factories and mines, and young children earned only a portion of an adult’s wage. Dirty air, unsafe working conditions and low wages made labor in many cities a dangerous occupation. As working conditions worsened, workers came together and began forming labor unions: through unions, workers could have a voice by participating in strikes and rallies. Through unions, Americans fought against child labor and for the eight-hour workday.

LABOR AND FAITH

The value of human labor is echoed throughout the Abrahamic tradition, including stories and wisdom about the nature of labor in both the Bible and the Quran. Biblical passages ask God to “prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90), while the Quran refers to the morality of conducting oneself in the public square.

The Catholic church has been preaching on behalf of workers for more than a century. The landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Of revolutionary change”) was published in 1891 and has been described as a primer on the rights of laborers who face abusive conditions in the workplace. This became one of the central themes of Pope John Paul II’s long pontificate. In 1981, he published his own lengthy encyclical, Laborem Exercens (“On human work”). Then, a decade later, John Paul returned to this milestone in Catholic teaching in Centisimus Annus (“Hundredth year”).

In 2019, the United Methodist Church published an appeal to church leaders. Titled “Labor Day Is Not Just a Day Off,” the text says in part:

Did you know The United Methodist Church has been a part of the labor movement throughout history and is committed to fairness and justice in the workplace? In the early 20th century the church was working to end child labor. And in the ’50s, during our country’s civil rights movement, we were fighting for fair wages and better working conditions. We were dedicated to fairness and justice in the workplace then, and we still are today.

When John Wesley founded the Methodist movement during the 18th century, there was no “worker movement” the way we’d understand it today. But Wesley preached to and cared for coal miners and other oppressed workers. He also opposed slavery. After Wesley died, his followers continued to work against workplace injustices in rapidly industrializing England, adopting the first Social Creed, in 1908, that dealt exclusively with labor practices.

By 1896, Labor Day was a national holiday in the United States.

Paryushan Parva, Das Lakshana: Jains pray and fast during forgiveness festival

Jain Paryushan UK

A Paryushana and Diwali celebration at the Shrimad Rajchandra Jain Spiritual Centre in Bushey, London, UK. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24 and THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (beginning August 24, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (beginning September 1, this year), Paryushan Parva is the most important Jain religious observance of the year; it means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. (For Digambar Jains, the festival is also sometimes known as Das Lakshana.) In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too.

Each evening of Paryushana, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva, with some drinking only boiled water between sunrise and sunset. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones. The end of Paryushana also brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification. For Shvetambars, the final day of Paryushana is Samvatsari Pratikraman, the annual confession. The act of asking forgiveness is extended to family and friends, and then to all living beings. This ritual of forgiveness is sometimes called the rite of universal friendship.

Did you know?  The word “Paryushan” has several meanings. One aspect is explained this way: Pari means “all kinds,” or “fully,” and Ushan means “to burn,” so during this time, a devotee “burns” “all kinds” of karma. In another aspect, the entire word “Paryushan” means “abiding,” or “coming together.”

Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.

IN THE NEWS: Current diet fads may be promoting the practice of fasting for health reasons, but most world religions have been utilizing this tool for thousands of years—and not just for physical health, but for spiritual health. As is pointed out in an article from Florida International University:

Jain fasting includes complete avoidance of food or eating only a partial meal, eliminating rare or expensive foods and avoiding sexual temptations. The holiday of Paryushan, observed annually around August to September, is the time when Jains connect communally on the core tenets of the faith through fasting and studying.

For eight to 10 days, Jains focus on the values of forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, truth, contentment, self-restraint, penance, renunciation, nonattachment and celibacy. Fasting is also possible throughout the year by individuals, but this celebration is the common communal embracing of fasting across sects.

 

Krishna Janmashtami: Celebrating Lord Krishna around the world

Human pyramid reaching upward among crowd of people

A Dahi Handi pyramid for Krishna Janmashtami. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 18—Millions of Hindus worldwide revel in the spirit of Lord Krishna, fasting, chanting, indulging in sweets and celebrating for the grand festival of Krishna Janmashtami. An observance that lasts eight days in some regions, Krishna Janmashtami honors the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. To devotees, Krishna is the epitome of many characteristics: according to ancient texts, he is a mischievous and fun-loving child, a romantic lover and an empathetic friend.

Did you know? According to legend, Lord Krishna reciprocates devotions in ways unique for each devotee.

On this, Krishna’s birthday, events begin before sunrise and last through midnight. Public and private prayer can include chanting, singing and more. Feasts of many dishes are often prepared, and dances and dramas depicting the life and ways of Krishna are watched with fanfare. Some devotees dress or decorate statues of Krishna, while others string garlands across temples or in their homes.

Many Hindus fast until midnight—the official birth time of Krishna. At midnight, those at the temple watch a priest pull apart curtains to reveal a fully dressed figure of Krishna.

ACROSS INDIA: KRISHNA JANMASHTAMI

Spanning the country of India, Krishna’s birthday is commemorated with regional variations. (Due to continuing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, many events will be altered in different ways, this year.)

In Mumbai, Pune and in other regions, boys traditionally form human pyramids in hopes of having the highest boy break an earthen pot (called a handi) filled with buttermilk, which is tied to a string strung high above the streets. If the pot is broken, buttermilk spills over the group and the boys win prize money. Various groups of boys compete in Dahi Handi, in impersonation of a favorite pastime of the child Krishna: stealing butter.

In several regions, it has been announced that Dahi Handi events will resume this year, and political figures, wealthy individuals and even Bollywood actors often contribute to prize money for the Dahi Handi. In some regions of India, younger boys—typically the youngest male in a family—are dressed up like Lord Krishna. Hindus across Nepal, the U.S., the Caribbean and more revel in festivities for Krishna Janmashtami, offering fruit, flowers and coins to the deity and chanting together.

Raksha Bandhan: Hindus, Indian communities honor brother-sister relationships

Raksha Bandhan plate, bracelet

Photo by Prashant, courtesy of Pixahive

THURSDAY, AUGUST 11: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

IN THE NEWS: The makers of the upcoming movie “Raksha Bandhan” are set to release the song “Done kar do”—  the first Indian film to have a song launch in the UK. Read more here.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian usually shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

Gulab Jamun Raksha Bandhan

Gulab Jamun. Photo courtesy of Rawpixel

Did you know? Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year government officials across India announce some kind of new service or public improvement related to the holiday.

In a normal year, on the morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

For an eco-friendly rakhi DIY, check out this article, from The Better India.

Feast of the Transfiguration: Christians recall ‘greatest miracle’ on Mount Tabor

Transfiguration Mount Tabor

Mount Tabor, in Israel; the biblical site of the Transfiguration. Photo courtesy of Picryl

SATURDAY, AUGUST 6: An event revered by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the greatest miracle” is recalled by both Eastern and Western Christians today, on the centuries-old Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. (Note: Catholic and most Orthodox churches mark this feast on August 6, though many American Protestant congregations, among them United Methodist and some Lutheran churches, celebrated Jesus’s transfiguration much earlier this year as part of their Epiphany season.)

Transfiguration fresco

A fresco depicting the Transfiguration, by Fra Angelico. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

Three Gospels tell of Jesus taking three disciples—Peter, James and John—along with him on an ascent of a mountain. Once at their destination, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear. A voice in the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fall to their knees in wonder.

While heading back down the mountain, the Bible describes Jesus as telling his disciples not to speak of what they had seen until he has risen from the dead. The disciples—confused by the words “risen from the dead”—discuss the meaning of this puzzling experience.

Did you know? In 2002, Pope John Paul II selected the Transfiguration as one of the five Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.

Theologians have argued for centuries about the metaphysics of the transfiguration—whether Jesus’s garments became white and his face shone like the sun, or that, perhaps, the apostles’ senses were transfigured so that they could perceive the true glory of God. Nonetheless, Christian churches agree that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. The mountain represents the meeting point of human and God; of earth and heaven.

Did you know? In Byzantine theology, the Tabor Light is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul on the road to Damascus. 

For an Orthodox perspective on the holiday, learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

For a Western perspective, visit the Global Catholic Network.