Advent: Western Christians usher in season of anticipation for Christ’s birth

Advent wreath

A wreath for Advent. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28: The season of Advent begins today for over a billion Western Christians, as the church enters a new liturgical year and begins the season whose lighted wreaths and prayers anticipate the birth of Jesus.

On each of the four Sundays leading to Christmas, Christians light a new candle on the Advent wreath: three purple, and one rose-colored one. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, and in some churches, a white pillar candle in the middle of the wreath is lit in Christmas Eve. (Note: In Protestant churches, Advent candles are often red, and in Anglican and Lutheran churches, they are typically blue.) Many congregations are draped in purple or blue, symbolizing hope and repentance. During Advent, Christians look to both Christ’s ancient birth and the Second Coming.

Note: Eastern Christians began the Nativity Fast—a strict, 40-day fast leading to the Nativity—on November 15.

Advent calendars have rapidly been gaining popularity in recent years, even amongst secular Christmas celebrants. Still, traditionally faithful families may fashion their own Advent wreaths of evergreens and candles. Jesse Trees, used in many churches to provide necessary items for the needy during the season, have also been steadily gaining popularity.

Interested in making a DIY Advent wreath? Find information on making a base, candle-holders, greens and more at Catholic Culture.

Rethinking Thanksgiving to Remember our Native Neighbors

Thanksgiving, as the United States’ origin story, leaves out painful truths about the nation’s history. Giving thanks, however, has always been part of Native Americans’ everyday lives. Image: Earnest L. Spybuck (Absentee Shawnee, 1883–1949). “Shawnee Home Life about 1890,” painted in 1910. Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. (CLICK on this image to visit Smithsonian magazine, where you can read the entire article that features this painting by Earnest Spybuck.)

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Resources for Remembrance and Reconnection

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 25—Perhaps the American culture surrounding Thanksgiving now is so far from its roots in the 1600s that questions about our “American” relationships with our continent’s original residents have become irrelevant. There’s a strong argument that American Thanksgiving culture now focuses overwhelmingly on food, family, sports and early Christmas shopping. At this point, for millions of Americans, our moral responsibility to our Indigenous neighbors is far from the front of our hearts and minds on the holiday.

We are not the only ones to have forgotten any Thanksgiving roots in the 1600s. Those scenes were far from the minds of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln when they established national Thanksgiving holidays.

For both presidents, Thanksgiving was mainly a time to celebrate having survived wars. Read George Washington’s original 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation and two things are obvious: First, he never mentions Native Americans. Second, he is calling on Euro-Americans to celebrate that they have survived the Revolutionary War and seem to be thriving. Read Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation and the same two truths are clear: The “thanks” involves the Civil War and Native Americans are invisible. In fact, Lincoln celebrates the westward expansion of European immigrants.

The next major holiday milestone, 1939, was President Franklin Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Once again we see the same truths: No mention of Indigenous people, although FDR did salute the Pilgrims, and once again Thanksgiving is tied to war, the global “turmoil” that would become World War II. In fact, in 1939, the truth that FDR never mentioned in his proclamation was: Americans needed to shop! Roosevelt’s big decision that year was to move the holiday slightly earlier—on the next-to-the-last Thursday of November—after concerted lobbying by the merchandizing tycoon Fred J. Lazarus, founder of Federated Department Stores, which became Macy’s. (Check out Macy’s own timeline and scroll down to 1939.) Native Americans certainly had nothing to do with that huge marketing effort.

In fact, the largely fanciful tales of a Pilgrim-and-Indian Thanksgiving feast shared in school pageants nationwide were not commonly known in Washington’s and Lincoln’s eras—and were barely on FDR’s cultural radar screen. When these images were merged with all the holiday hoopla in schools after World War II, Native leaders were so perplexed and uncomfortable with this story that they began to protest.

Click on this photo to enlarge it for easier reading.

The first National Day of Mourning was held in 1970. Wikipedia describes the events leading to this protest that created an alternative holiday:

For the 350th anniversary in 1970 of the Pilgrim’s arrival in North America (landing on Wampanoag land), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts planned to celebrate friendly relations between their ancestors and the Wampanoag. Wampanoag leader Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, was invited to make a speech at the celebration. When his speech was reviewed by the anniversary planners, they decided it would not be appropriate. The reason is given: “…the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” Wamsutta had based his speech on a Pilgrim’s account of the first year in North America: a recollection of opening of graves, taking existing supplies of corn and bean and selling Wampanoag as slaves for 220 shillings each. After receiving a revised speech, written by a public relations person, Wamsutta decided he would not attend the celebration. To protest the attempted silencing of his position detailing the uncomfortable truth of the First Thanksgiving, he and his supporters went to neighboring Cole’s Hill. Near the statue of Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag when the Pilgrims landed, and overlooking Plymouth Harbour and the Mayflower replica, Wamsutta gave his original speech. This was the first National Day of Mourning.

Smithsonian and Native Leaders Say:
Please Think of Us—But Accurately

In fact, the central theme of the educational materials developed by Native American leaders working through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian focus on properly crediting Native Americans as part of this nation’s Thanksgiving tradition.

Here are some media resources to help you, your family, your congregation and community rethink Thanksgiving as it relates to our Indian neighbors:

2021 WASHINGTON POST REPORTING—One of the most in-depth stories we’ve seen in 2021 was reported by Dana Hedgepeth, headlined: This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN provides some very helpful educational materials. Here is the gateway page that introduces American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. Then, if you care to jump directly to the downloadable PDF of the study guide, you can visit this page.

NATIVE VOICES CONVERGE—The Smithsonian magazine’s collection of Native voices concerning Thanksgiving began with a 2011 column written by Dennis W. Zotigh, a  writer who is part of the Kiowa and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and Isante Dakota peoples. It all began when Zotigh was asked by the Smithsonian to answer the question: Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving? What happened next surprised the Smithsonian editors: Native voices from across the nation began attaching comments to the original story. So, over a decade, Zotigh’s original words have been expanded.

HULU TASTE OF THE NATION—If you have access to HULU, check out the “Truth and the Turkey Tale” episode of Padma Laksmi’s series Taste of the Nation.

LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT AS A SMALL FIRST GESTURE—This year, our online magazine is highlighting emerging stories about relationships with our Native American neighbors. We have been reporting on both the tragic history and the multi-faceted opportunities, today, in establishing cooperative relationships. As residents of North America, we have an enormous amount of work ahead of us, including coming to terms with centuries of trauma in North American Indian boarding schools. Author and journalist Bill Tammeus reported this recent story for us about the emerging practice of “land acknowledgement.” Bill also provides many links to great reading and online resources—including a very useful Native Land app for smartphones.

‘INVENTION OF THANKSGIVING’ VIDEO—In this short video, shared via the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche and co-curator of the award-winning exhibition Americans) looks at why the Thanksgiving story is so important to the United States’ image of itself as a nation. NOTE: Because this video is shared via YouTube, you can also share it with family, friends, your class or small group.

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FINALLY, A HEARTBREAKING MAP: In 1605, explorer Samuel de Champlain had this detailed map drawn of the thriving Wampanoag village he visited along the shoreline where Pilgrims would land 15 years later. Between de Champlain’s visit and that historic 1620 landing by the Pilgrims, a virulent epidemic had raged through Wampanoag tribal lands that killed virtually all of the men, women and children in this particular village. The disease, an infection with symptoms similar to smallpox, was the result of early contacts with Europeans that spread the epidemic throughout the native communities. As the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they soon realized they were moving into what amounted to a ghost town. When Pilgrims explored the village’s ruins, they found ghastly evidence of the epidemic, including unburied skeletons of the last few native men and women to die. To learn more about the Wompanoag, you’ll enjoy Wikipedia’s extensive article with many links to other resources.

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Nativity Fast: Eastern Orthodox Christians begin period of preparation for Christ’s birth

Nativity Orthodox Christian

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15: While the American Thanksgiving has not have arrived yet, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are turning toward the season of Jesus’s birth—which they refer to formally as the Nativity—with, today, the start of the Nativity Fast. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared for the Nativity with a 40-day Nativity Fast.

Note: The variance between starting on (what today is) November 15 and 28 stems from traditional methods of keeping the calendar through many centuries. Some Orthodox church headquarters in the U.S. now list both dates on their websites, because parish leaders know that some families who attend prefer to follow one calendar, while others may follow calendars that match relatives in their countries of origin.

Two periods comprise the Nativity Fast (the dates of which are stated, here, per the Gregorian calendar): Nov. 15-Dec. 19, and Dec. 20-24. December 20 launches the Forefeast of the Nativity, with chanting of Nativity hymns each day through Dec. 24 (Paramony). On Paramony—called Christmas Eve in the Western Christian church—no solid food is consumed until the first star is observed in the evening sky; afterward, the fast is joyously broken. Many then head to the traditional All-Night Vigil, while others attend the Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ on Christmas morning.

Did you know? The Nativity Fast thematically focuses on glorification of the Incarnation of God; the Western Advent focuses on the two comings (or advents) of Jesus. 

Traditional Orthodox fasting is no simple task: It means giving up meat and dairy, in addition to fish, wine and oil (fish, wine and oil are, however, permitted on specific days). Yet Orthodox teaching instructs that fasting be undertaken with gladness and in a sense of earnest anticipation—in the promise that these devout preparations will deepen reflections on the moment when God became human. Fasting for Orthodox Christians includes abstinence from foods, negative emotions and greed. Prayer and almsgiving complement the fasting period.

THE PURPOSE OF FASTING: A SYNOPSIS

What is the purpose of fasting, according to the Eastern Orthodox Christian church? Following is pastoral advice from the website of the Antiochian Orthodox archdiocese for America:

The purpose of fasting is to focus on the things that are above, the Kingdom of God. It is a means of putting on virtue in reality, here and now. Through it we are freed from dependence on worldly things. We fast faithfully and in secret, not judging others, and not holding ourselves up as an example. 

Fasting in itself is not a means of pleasing God. Fasting is not a punishment for our sins. Nor is fasting a means of suffering and pain to be undertaken as some kind of atonement. Christ already redeemed us on His Cross. Salvation is a gift from God that is not bought by our hunger or thirst.

We fast to be delivered from carnal passions so that God’s gift of Salvation may bear fruit in us. We fast and turn our eyes toward God in His Holy Church. Fasting and prayer go together. Fasting is not irrelevant. Fasting is not obsolete, and it is not something for someone else. Fasting is from God, for us, right here and right now. 

PROPHETS AND THE AFTERFEAST

Throughout the Nativity Fast, several key figures are highlighted with feast days—in particular, the prophets who Eastern Christians believe laid the groundwork for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths. Sundays leading up to Nativity also bring attention to ancestors of the church and righteous men and women who pleased God.

On December 25 (or January 7), the Feast of the Nativity, fasting is forbidden; a fast-free period, or Afterfeast, lasts through January 4—or later, depending on one’s calendar.

Veterans Day, Remembrance Day: Thank veterans in your community by taking time to learn their stories

Elderly veteran wearing Pearl Harbor hat salutes

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 11: Give a virtual shout-out, call a veteran you know or make a sign to express your gratitude to a veteran in your neighborhood, today—the options are endless! And the best idea of all is simply to spend time with veterans you know, giving them time to share stories if they wish to do so.

However you choose to recognize those who served America, Veterans Day is celebrated today across the country; in Canada, those who served are also recognized, in an observance known as Remembrance Day.

How It All Began

Another way to prepare for Veterans Day is to order a copy of 100 Questions and Answers about Veterans, a book that’s packed with information veterans told us they wish more Americans understood about their lives and experiences. Click this image to visit Amazon.

In the United States, the idea of setting aside a special day to honor the men and women who served their country dates to a Nov. 11 observance at the close of World War I. The world’s “Great War” officially ceased on June 28, 1919, but the fighting had actually stopped seven months earlier, on Nov. 11—and thus, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. Nearly two decades later, November 11th was declared a legal holiday in the United States.

By 1954, the world had survived WWII and the Korean War, and a WWII vet began raising support for a more general Veterans Day. Among other arguments made in this campaign: WWII had required even more soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen than WWI. At the urging of citizens, November 11th officially became Veterans Day in 1954.

In Canada, Remembrance Day is observed with a moment of silence and ceremonies. Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth in commemoration of the armistice agreement that ended World War I. Armistice Day was first observed as “Remembrance Day” on November 11, 1931; the poppy is the official symbol of the day.

2021 VETERANS DAY FREEBIES & DISCOUNTS: Many restaurants and retailers offer special prices for veterans on Veterans Day. Check out MilitaryBenefits.info for a full listing restaurants, retailers and other businesses offering Veterans Day freebies and discounts in 2021.

Care to Learn More?

Susan Stitt wrote this column about some of the Best Gift Books for Veterans Day.

Diwali (Deepavali): Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and more celebrate festival of lights

Diwali lights diya

Girls light diya lamps for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4: Today begins Diwali, the ancient Hindu festival of lights. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike; as awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world.

In recent (non-pandemic) years, more than 1 billion people across the globe celebrate Diwali. This year, in addition to restrictions being in place, many festivals will be seeing some changes. (For example, Leicester’s massive Diwali festival will, this year, host three screens of pre-recorded programming in place of a stage, and a “Fire Garden” will be set up in place of fireworks. Read more from the BBC.)

(Please note: Dates and spellings of Diwali may vary by country and region. This festival is also called Deepavali, or Dipavali.)

A Diwali diya lamp. Photo by Abhinaba Basu, courtesy of Flickr

DIWALI PREPARATIONS: A MULTI-DAY CELEBRATION

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance. In a shopping extravaganza, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. To receive the blessings of Lakshmi tonight means a good year ahead. And, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

ATMAN: PURE AND INFINITE

Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali revels in the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, one can see past ignorance and into the oneness of all things.

DIWALI AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple and more.

Interested in coloring pages, crafts, printables and a how-to video of the Jai Ho dance? Find it all and more at Activity Village.

Happy Halloween! And Allhallowtide, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos too!

Kids in costumes in a row, smiling

Photo courtesy of Shaw Air Force Base

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 31 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2—From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead to Halloween, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin—and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the fun with kids. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!

THE COVID-19 HALLOWEEN FORECAST

This year, the nation’s leading public-health experts are encouraging families to enjoy outdoor Trick or Treating. The most-shared advice in mid-October comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who declared:”Go out there and enjoy Halloween!” That line formed the headline of lots of subsequent newspaper and magazine stories. Fauci explained that during a typical Trick or Treat stroll, “You’re outdoors for the most part. Enjoy it. This is a time children love. It’s an important time of the year for children.”

In fact CNN has been predicting a Halloween “blowout.” CNN reported, for example: “The National Retail Federation expects Halloween spending to hit a record $10.14 billion. … Candy and chocolate sales are already soaring above 2020 levels, according to the National Confectioners Association, a trade group.”

Then USA Today detailed that spending: “Most of the spending will go to costumes: $3.32 billion, 27% more than last year and the most since consumers spent $3.35 billion in 2017. Almost as much–$3.17 billion–will be spent on decorations. And $3 billion will be spent on candy.”

However, that does not mean families can expect all of the typical pre-COVID traditions and events to be back on their regional schedules this year.

One big category of cancelations involves apartment complexes. Many high-rise complexes have cancelled Trick or Treating again this year, because children would be crowding into indoor spaces such as hallways and elevators. But the rules vary widely. Complexes with plenty of outdoor community space may still be holding events.

Bottom line: Check on any events in your community that you and your kids would like to attend.

Tips for Halloween Fun

One of the most highly recommended set of 2021 tips comes from The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website HealthyChildren.org, headlined: Halloween & COVID-19: Have Fun While Staying Safe. In addition to ideas for family fun, that list of tips ends with links covering food allergies and advice about face makeup and costumes that include decorative contact lenses.

Want even more ideas? Here are webpages packed with tips and resources from Nickelodeon and Nick Jr., Oprah Daily, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Womans’ Day and even Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman.

HALLOWEEN: A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN & A CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favorite characters has become custom in Western culture.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK

pumpkin candles darkness

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

MUERTOS: DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

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Navaratri, Dussehra: Hindus hold nine-night festival of feminism, good over evil

temple Navaratri

The Kodungallur Sree Kurumba Bhagavathy Temple, in India, during Navaratri. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7 and FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15: Hindus launch the nine-night festival known as Sharad Navaratri (English spellings vary; the name often appears without the middle “a”) on October 7, this year—an ancient festival that emphasizes the motherhood of the divine and femininity. Each night during Navaratri, Hindus worship a different form or characteristic of Mother Goddess Durga, who is regarded as being manifested in cosmic energy and power. In general, Sharad Navaratri is the celebration of good over evil, though many aspects of this tradition vary by region in India and around the world.

Did you know? Navaratri in its basic form takes place a number of times during the seasons of each year, but it’s Sharad Navaratri—this festival, at the beginning of autumn—that takes precedence over any other. Sharad Navaratri culminates on a final day known as Dussehra.

Legends related to this observance differ: Some indicate that Shiva gave permission to Durga to visit her mother for nine days, while others describe Durga’s victory following a nine-day battle with the demon Mahishasura. Life-size clay figures depicting this battle are commonly seen in temples during Navaratri. But there is a universal theme to this tradition, too: All Hindus aim for purity, avoiding meat, grains and alcohol—and usually installing a household pot that is kept lit for nine days. Some devotees fast, and others consume only milk and fruit for nine days.

SINGING, DANCING IN THE STREETS

A celebration for Dussehra. Photo courtesy of PxHere

Navaratri brings out community-wide singing and music in India: nighttime dances in the streets combine with bountiful feasts and shrines are elaborately decorated. In Saraswat Brahmin temples, statue figures are adorned with flowers, sandalwood paste and turmeric.

In some regions of India, it’s believed that one should try to envision the divinity in the tools used for daily life—whether books, computers or larger instruments—and decorate them with flowers and other adornments, in hopes of both humbling themselves and bringing auspiciousness upon the items that aid them in livelihood.

FROM NAVARATRI TO DUSSEHRA

The festival of Navaratri culminates in the most celebrated holiday of all nine nights: Dasara (spellings vary). From the Sanskrit words for “remover of bad fate,” today’s Dussehra brings towering effigies to the streets of India, along with a host of ancient rituals and marked traditions. Many Hindus recognize the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, a demon, during an epic battle over Rama’s wife, Sita. It’s believed that Ravana had 10 heads, and thus, 10 unfavorable qualities are rid from households with elaborate Yanga performances today; the unfavorable qualities include lust, anger, delusion, greed and jealousy.

In many parts of India, towering effigies of Ravana and his brothers are filled with firecrackers and exploded. Commonly met with cheers, the burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual: onlookers are encouraged to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In northern India, a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets; in southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

Did you know? Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashami, the celebration of yet another victory involving goodness over evil: Goddess Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahisasura. According to this legend, Mother Goddess Shakti incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga.

Given the day’s auspiciousness, many Hindu (and non-Hindu) children begin their formal education today. Some devotees purchase new work tools—whether books, computers or farming equipment—and still others pay respect to elders and request their blessings. Families and friends gather for parties and feasting.