Cautiously, Muslims around the world celebrate Hajj festival of Eid al-Adha

Crowd of Muslims gathers, sitting, for prayer, in a field

In years before the pandemic, Eid al-Adha prayers were offered in vast community gatherings. Above, Muslims gather for Eid prayer in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 19As we reported in our earlier Hajj story, Hajj 2021 is a tiny sampling of the normally jam-packed experience in the holy sites, due to pandemic restrictions. However, in many parts of the world, families are eager to return to larger gatherings for prayer and shared meals. Various government bodies around the world are issuing warnings and, in some cases, legal restrictions on gatherings. Only news reports this week will tell us how much the pandemic has limited public celebrations.

Whatever unfolds this week in public settings, Muslims of all ages certainly will be remembering Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. On the first morning of the Eid festival, Tuesday July 20 in 2021, crowds would fill mosques, sometimes overflowing into sidewalks, parking lots, open fields and parks around the world. Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca; Muslims across the globe normally gather with family and friends and offer prayers in congregation.

IBRAHIM, ISHMAEL AND THE MIRACLE AT THE ALTAR

Two joyous religious holidays are observed by all Muslims each year: Eid al-Fitr, ending the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha.

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims dress in their finest clothing and offer prayers in congregation. Visits are made, and even non-Muslims are invited to take part in the feasts and festivities.

Jews and Christians are familiar with the Bible story of the patriarch Abraham and a call to sacrifice his son Isaac. According to Muslim tradition, the story focuses on Ibrahim and his son Ishmael. In the Islamic version, when Ibrahim lowers his arm toward his son, the Archangel Gabriel places a ram on the altar instead of Ishmael. In commemoration, Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, keeping one-third of the share; giving one-third to relatives and neighbors; and donating the remaining one-third to the poor.

sweets platter of cookies

Cookies prepared for Eid al-Adha in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THE ‘GREATER EID’                

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy.

It is Islamic custom to exchange joyful greetings, present gifts to children and visit with family and friends during this joyous time. The events of Eid al-Adha last between one and four days, although in some regions, festivities carry on even longer.

 

The Hajj 2021: Sharp Limitations for a Second Year in COVID Pandemic

Hajj Kaaba Muslims pilgrims

OVERWHELMING NUMBERS of people usually make the annual Hajj a real-life experience of the global diversity of Islam. Photo of an earlier Hajj by Hassan Morowa, courtesy of Pexels

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SATURDAY, JULY 17: Millions of Muslims who planned to make the pilgrimage to Mecca this year will be staying home as Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the holy places, has announced a COVID-limited Hajj for the second straight year.

Here is the latest reporting from Arab News, the English-language newspaper published from Saudi Arabia, headlined: Saudi authorities unveil operational plan for Hajj season. Central to this year’s plan is a limitation of only 60,000 pilgrims—and only Muslims already residing inside Saudi Arabia.

The United States Centers for Disease Control reports that this news parallels the CDC’s own recommendation that Americans not attempt to travel to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj. The CDC’s key points include:

  • The Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is one of the world’s largest mass gatherings. Hajj will take place July 17-July 22, 2021.
  • On June 12, 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officially announced that only people currently residing in Saudi Arabia will be permitted to make the pilgrimage this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CDC recommends that Americans already in Saudi Arabia not make the pilgrimage. Mass gatherings, such as Hajj, can increase the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 because it can be hard to practice physical distancing.
  • Even fully vaccinated people may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
  • Medical resources in Saudi Arabia may be limited.

Among the pillars of Islam, the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims are expected to visit Mecca and fulfill the Hajj rituals that reenact the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage,” in 632 AD. Arriving via every mode of transportation available and from countries that circle the globe, this annual Islamic pilgrimage is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

It’s a Perfect Opportunity to Meet ‘Our Muslim Neighbors’

Click this cover to jump back to early 2019 for our story about the launch of “Our Muslim Neighbors,” explaining the importance of meeting the Muslim families who are such important parts of our communities.

In the U.S.—Pew Research estimates there are 3.45 million Muslims, making up 1.1 percent of the American population.

However, most Americans have never actually met our millions of Muslim neighbors.

To help celebrate the Hajj this year—it’s time to change that. It’s time to reach out and talk with our Muslim co-workers and neighbors. If we do reach out, we usually discover new friends with similar values—and the entire community is enriched by our new friendships.

That is why we are urging all of our readers to turn back to this January 2019 cover story in which we suggest a way to take that next step—through the pages of Victor Begg’s new memoir.

You will meet Victor, his wife Shahina and their entire family in this engaging book, titled Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream, an Immigrant’s MemoirThe book includes Victor’s description of his own Hajj experiences, which is a great way for non-Muslims to learn about this centuries-old tradition that is limited to Muslims.

Readers also will recognize their own core American values as they enjoy reading about Victor’s courageous attempts to live out those values, sometimes in the midst of tragedy.

“This is a true blue American story—my story of how I came to this country and built a successful business and a life for my family that contributed to our community in so many ways,” Victor says. “Along the way, I realized that most Americans don’t know any Muslims and that heightened bigotry arises because people don’t know that our families are just like their families. We share so many community and spiritual values—and we would discover that if we simply reached out—if we simply got to know each other.”

That’s also what Bill Tammeus, one of the most respected religion writers in the U.S., concluded after reading Victor’s book. Here’s a sample of what Bill wrote:

This is a highly personal story, but Begg’s experience and thinking can encourage all Americans to get to know their Muslim neighbors—to say nothing of neighbors of all other (and no) religious traditions. When people are religiously illiterate, it can lead to fear, which can lead to hate, which can lead to violence. We’ve been there before. This book is a helpful road map in a better direction.

THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & ISHMAEL

Muslim travelers Hajj

Travelers during the season of Hajj. Photo by Muritala Yusuf Olanrewaju, courtesy of Needpix.com

Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, food and water quickly ran out; Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba, and today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

Jahiliyyah: During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.

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Fourth of July: Fireworks are back (mostly) as Americans celebrate Independence Day

Fireworks from a White House balcony July 4, 2000, courtesy of the White House Fourth of July portal, which is linked below in this article.

SUNDAY, JULY 4: Barbecues are firing up and backyard celebrations will be plentiful this Fourth of July, as many public events return across America.

The staff at Parade magazine embarked this year on an exhaustive 50-state tour of top fireworks destinations. After all that research, Parade concludes: “Unfortunately, last year, firework displays were canceled in many places around the country due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Thankfully, restrictions have started to lift in most states as more and more people get vaccinated, and firework extravaganzas are returning to communities for the Fourth of July 2021!”

Shooting off your own fireworks this year? Get safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Seems as though editors nationwide had the same idea, because the Forbes magazine staff researched a slightly different approach to holiday recommendations nationwide, headlined: Creative Fourth Of July Suggestions, From Mini-Cruises To The Country’s Oldest Parade

Then, the editors at Delish magazine came up with yet another slant on the story: The 11 best Fourth of July Sales This Year.

One of the big news stories this summer is the return of a White House Fourth of July celebration. Want to know more? The White House website has a multi-media rich portal about the history of Fourth of July observances, dating all the way back to Thomas Jefferson.

Our tip on all of these events is: Plan ahead and check locally for the latest details. While many venues are running full scale—many are not yet back on the calendar. One big disappointment in the Chicago area, this year, is that Navy Pier has decided to cancel its July 4 fireworks display for a second straight year. Even though public health officials are opening up big venues to the public, the Navy Pier staff announced that they could not scramble fast enough to schedule their signature pull-out-all-the-stops pyrotechnic display this summer. They’re telling Chicago fireworks fans to come back in 2022.

JULY 2 and JULY 4

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence. Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

July 4th colonial

The Fourth of July in Philadelphia, 1819. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A COMMITTEE AND A DECLARATION DRAFT

 

The year was 1776, and the weather was stifling hot as a brand-new nation was being formed. In June of that year, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; a total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4, by the Second Continental Congress.

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, however, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day.

Fast fact: Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

SALUTE TO AMERICA: FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.

A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. The White House has announced that President Trump plans to host an Independence Day celebration again this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, with military demonstrations, fireworks and a speech.

Fourth of July treat

Photo courtesy of Piqsels

JULY 4 RECIPES, PARTY TIPS, DIY & MOVIES

Get out those red, white and blue decorations and recipes!

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 21 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from Parents.com and Disney.com.

Crowds gathered on the White House South Lawn for the Fourth of July in 1980, another historic photo courtesy of the White House July 4 portal. Click on this photo to visit that portal.

 

 

Celebrating Easter again with Eastern Christians who welcome the Holy Fire in Jerusalem

Spreading the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (This image was shared globally via Wikimedia Commons.)

LEARNING ABOUT ANCIENT CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES

A nearly 2,000-year-old tradition

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here at ReadTheSpirit magazine, our goal week after week is to cover global religious and cultural diversity—including diversity within Christianity. Nearly 300 million Christians follow Eastern Orthodox traditions with their own liturgical calendars and customs. That includes the dazzling ritual of the “Holy Fire” emerging from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a flame that kindles countless other lamps that are carried far and wide as a symbol of Easter hope. Because ancient calendars vary, many Eastern Orthodox churches around the world did not mark Easter until May 2, which meant that the ritual of the Holy Fire occurred on May 1. Sharing this story with is us Kevin Vollrath. You can find his earlier story on Orthodox Great Lent right here.

Waiting for the Holy Flame with Abuna Awad in Aboud

By KEVIN VOLLRATH
Contributing Columnist

Many pilgrims travel to the Holy Land during Lent to observe the Orthodox Easter liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Easter 2020 was a sad occasion, due to the pandemic. No pilgrims were allowed to attend this beautiful service, which was conducted by a handful of religious leaders. This year, according to both Reuters and Associated Press, hundreds of pilgrims who could show that they had been fully vaccinated were allowed to crowd into the ancient church, once again, starting with the Saturday service of the Holy Fire.

During this service, Christians crowd around the little stone enclosure in the center of the vast church, marking the spot tradition says Jesus was buried. The service begins in deep shadow, then lights emerge from the little stone enclosure—and then quickly spread across other candles and lamps until the entire interior of the church glows with their collective blaze.

Some call this the Miracle of the Holy Fire. Even Orthodox leaders have debated over the years whether this annual emergence of light can be called a true “miracle,” but the custom has been reported since the first centuries of Christianity and the inspiration of the event feels miraculous to pilgrims. The spiritual effect of the spreading flames is one of the most stirring visual manifestations of the faith—especially as those lights spread outside the church’s doors, across the Old City of Jerusalem and eventually around the world. Special flights are arranged each year to carry the flame from Jerusalem to Greece and other main centers of Orthodoxy.

The eager anticipation of these flames is just as intense in Palestinian Christian churches spread across Israel and Palestine.

Meet Father (or in Arabic, Abuna) Emmanuel Awad, an Orthodox priest in a village called Aboud, about 11 miles northwest of Ramallah and 18 miles north of Jerusalem. The name “Aboud” comes from the word origin meaning “to worship.” People from the small village tell the story of how it ws named after the biblical prophet Obadiah.

Abuna Emmanuel grew up in Innareek, another village outside of Ramallah in the West Bank. After studying to be an electrical engineer, he returned to the Orthodox Church in 1999 and quickly became a deacon. He married, was ordained and has two sons and a daughter. He has been serving as the local priest of The Dormition of the Theotokos Church since 2010. The church is one of the oldest in the Holy Land having been commissioned by Helena, the mother of Constantine in 332CE.

Abuna Emmanuel says that the essence of being a Christian is loving everyone and opposing hate always. Even though he’s ordained in the Orthodox church, and even has a PhD in Orthodox Studies, he professes not caring about denominational divisions: “We’re all just Christian, witnessing for Jesus Christ.”

For Abuna Emmanuel, Orthodox Easter liturgy captures the heart of the Christian gospel, enabling us to better love ourselves, fellow believers, the world and God.

One cannot understand the Easter liturgy, though, apart from its Lenten context. Easter liturgy is the culmination of three parts: first, preparation before Lent, including a gradual start to fasting (you can read more here). The second part is Great Lent, which runs for 40 days from Clean Monday to the sixth subsequent Friday, the day before Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, is the third part.

One way to determine the time during Holy Weekend in an Orthodox church is to look for the Epitaphios, an icon often made of cloth that depicts Jesus’ preparations for burial. During the Gospel reading of evening prayers on Good Friday, the priest and deacon move the Epitaphios to the Holy Table. At the end of the service, the Epitaphios is brought to the center of the church, where it remains available to be visited by the faithful until Holy Saturday Matins, often observed late in the evening of Good Friday. Priests and deacons then hold a somber procession with the Epitaphios outside the church, with bell tolling and funeral singing.

Over the long services concluding Holy Week, Abuna Emmanuel says “we feel Jesus Christ’s suffering and his tiredness and his cross. We also feel Jesus’ pleasure that comes from resurrection, commemorated by the light that emerges from Jesus’ resting place.”

When Abuna Emmanuel’s church received its flame from Jerusalem on the evening of Holy Saturday, the faithful processed around the church building, remembering their baptism just as they did at the beginning of Lent, moving from death and darkness to light and life, singing: “The angels in heaven, O Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection. Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.”

Before re-entering the church, Jesus’ resurrection was announced and the faithful entered singing of Christ’s victory and the joy of resurrection. Inside the church, the faithful observed a liturgy full of song and readings from throughout the Old and New Testaments.

In Abuna, the service often lasts about 3 hours, until 1 a.m. These liturgies can be even longer in other parts of the Orthodox world.

Unlike many Western churches, fasting ends Saturday evening with light foods: cheese, ham, mini-sandwiches, chocolates, hand-prepared wine. Maamoul cookies are one traditional favorite,  sometimes stuffed with date paste and other times arranged in the shape of a crown.

Traditionally, Sunday morning services are much shorter and most of the faithful already have gathered the night before, so the Sunday congregation usually is small. The prayers last about a half hour and focus on gratitude to God for Jesus’ resurrection and the grace it brings. After service, Palestinian believers generally celebrate at their homes with their families, often dining on lamb if it is available. Orthodox Christians believe Jesus’ sacrificial death fulfilled Passover requirements for a lamb sacrifice.

Instead of the usual daily mass, the week following Easter has no masses until the following Sunday, celebrating the eight days as though they are one day (known as Bright Week). The lack of fasting also indicates the joy of resurrection. The following Sunday, known as Thomas Sunday, commemorates Jesus’s arrival at the disciples’ house.

Care to share a prayer?

Here is a prayer Abuna Emmanuel shared with his people as they moved from Easter into Bright Week:

Beautiful God, we thank you for the many creative liturgies with which you have blessed the Church. We ask that our celebration, in whatever tradition we find ourselves, would bless you. Bless this church and the whole Orthodox church. Dwell with us as we feast this Easter season! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Care to see more?

Abuna Emmanuel works with Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and, in this video, he talks about his church and what it’s like to be a Christian in Palestine.

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KEVIN VOLLRATH is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion & Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, writing in this series as the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). He lives in Lambertville, NJ, while he waits to begin his fieldwork for his dissertation in Bethlehem once travel resumes.

Purim: Jewish festival recalls heroism of Esther with glee—and cookies, too!

WANT TO LEARN HOW TO MAKE DISTINCTIVE PURIM COOKIES? Bobbie Lewis shares her family recipe in this FeedTheSpirit column. (Just click on the photo.)

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SUNSET THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Eat! Drink! Be merry! The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible.

Today, with the start of Purim, fruit-filled cookies are served, outrageous costumes are donned, plenty of wine is consumed and comical skits entertain jovial audiences. In the synagogue, readings from the book of Esther evoke hissing, booing and stomping, as Jews “blot out” the name of the villainous Haman. While the name of G_d is not mentioned in the book of Esther, many Jews interpret this as indication that G_d works in ways that are not always apparent. On Purim, disguises and costumes serve as symbolism of G_d hidden behind the scenes.

ESTHER, MORDECAI AND AHASUERUS: THE STORY

When the beautiful young Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, she hid her Jewish identity. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, held a key position in the kingdom but was hated by the king’s advisor for refusing to bow down to him. In a rage, the king’s advisor—Haman—plotted to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews.

The turning point was the king’s love of Esther, who was chosen to be his queen. Though Haman had already convinced King Ahasuerus to kill the Jews in Persia, Esther fasted for three days, approached the king and revealed her own Jewish identity, pleading with the king to save the Jewish population. The king later hanged Haman and his 10 sons on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai. The Jewish people in Persia were saved from the plot of Haman.

Popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick, who penned This Jewish Life with real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar, describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim this way:

“On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mor- dechai.’ In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.”

A group of girls in matching purple skirts and costumes walks down an open road

Girls participate in a Purim procession in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

OBLIGATIONS AND HAMANTASCHEN

The carnivals and masquerades of Purim are accompanied by the four primary obligations of the day: to listen to a public reading of the book of Esther in the evening and the morning; to send food gifts to friends; to give charity to the poor; and to partake in a festive meal.

The signature treat for this holiday is Hamantaschen: Haman’s pockets. FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis tells the story of baking these delicious triangular treats in her family—and provides her own recipe for these cookies.

EXTRA RECIPES: An array of Purim recipes can be found at AllRecipes. For a crunchy take on Haman’s pockets, try these—made of Rice Krispies. Thirsty? Try making your own apricot-infused bourbon for Purim.

Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus celebrate Ganesha with vibrant colors, figures and treats

Pink elephant statue close-up with bangles and jewels and paint

Lord Ganesha. Photo by Kaushal Jangid, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 22: The sight of thousands of colorful, detailed elephant-type figures and the scent of sweet modak treats signal that Ganesha Chaturthi has arrived in India!

That is—in most years! During the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be fewer processions and smaller crowds. And, there may be colorful treats in store for people who are interested in Indian culture around the world. News reports say many communities that usually produce elaborate in-person Ganesh programs are, instead, focusing on producing virtual celebrations. Here’s a tip: Starting around August 21, Google “Ganesh Chaturthi” in YouTube and in Google News and you are likely to find links to cultural festivals you can stream wherever you are isolated these days.

After all, Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the grandest, most beloved and longest festivals in many regions of India, and the Hindu god Ganesha is honored during this time, known also as Vinayaka Chaturthi. For 10 days—until Anant Chaturdashi—many Jain, Christian and Muslim families across India join Hindus in celebrating the event. Images of Ganesha are temporarily installed in public pandals (shrines) and in homes, until they are taken to a local body of water and immersed.

Did you know? Lord Ganesha is believed to be the giver of fortune and one who can remove all obstacles to success.

Months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artists mold models of the elephant-god. Figures may range in size from less than one inch to almost 100 feet, most of them made of clay, Plaster-of-Paris, papier-mache or organic materials. In many areas of India, artists and industries earn a considerable portion of their yearly income preparing for Ganesh Chaturthi. Some regions host fairs, concerts, skits and dancing during the festival. Where an image of Ganesh is installed, the surrounding area is decorated with floral garlands, lights and more. Priests chant mantras to invoke Ganesha’s presence into the statues.

From a Hindu scholar: A few years ago, the Hindu writer and activist Padma Kuppa wrote a guest column in FeedTheSpirit, sharing her perspective on the holiday. And, Padma includes a delicious, traditional recipe as well. She included in this column additional links to learn more about the holiday and its beloved foods.

GANESH: CLAY & PLASTER, FROM INDIA TO THE UK—AND BEYOND

Though clay models used to be the primary material of Ganesh figures, demand and price led to the use of Plaster-of-Paris, which is not biodegradable. When Plaster-of-Paris Ganesh statues were immersed into water—also covered in chemical paints that contain heavy metals—water pollution began threatening the environment and statues began washing up on sandy beaches. In response, green initiatives have been launched across India. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made of PoP was banned and a return to traditional clay or reusable figures is growing in popularity. In some areas, pools are set up for the safe immersion of statues.

Tens of thousands of Hindus in the UK publicly observe Ganesh Chaturthi, from Paris to London and beyond. In the U.S., temples and associations mark the festival, and the Philadelphia Ganesh Festival (PGF) is the largest Hindu festival in North America. Ganesha is also celebrated across Canada, in Malaysia and Singapore and in Indian populations around the world.

 

Raksha Bandhan: Celebrating Bonds between Brothers and Sisters

Women at marketplace looking at bracelets

Women shop for Raksha Bandhan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 4: 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.

Two sisters renew bonds with their brother on Raksha Bandhan

Two sisters celebrate the holiday with their brother in a photo this family submitted to the Wikimedia Commons 2019 campaign, called “Wiki Loves Love.” Photo credit: Aasthap-dsc.

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.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian 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.

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. Want other culinary options? NDTV’s Food channel also published these 11 suggestions for other delightful holiday dishes. The non-alcoholic Mango Basil Colada sounds especially refreshing!

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.

A National Holiday

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. This year, one widely reported news story is a policy—in some regions—to offer free bus transportation for 24 hours so women can easily reach their brothers.

Each year, there also are efforts to encourage fitness on the holiday. One example, from The Times of Indiasuggests healthier choices for family banquets—and even suggests that a rakhi could be a fitness band.

Many families and organizations enjoy trying to take their festivities to extremes—competing for slots in the record books. For 2019, India-based Prokerala magazine takes a look at some of the records—and attempts at records.

Finally—and only in India—one of the country’s shelters for cows, sacred animals in Hinduism, has sparked headlines across the country for its new line of cow dung rakhis. No kidding! It’s one of a number of fundraisers to help support the shelter.