Mother’s Day: Americans give thanks for Mom

mother child Mother's Day

Photo by Family_Moments, courtesy of Freerange Stock

SUNDAY, MAY 12: Happy Mother’s Day!

Express gratitude to Mom, Grandma or any maternal figure in your life on this, the second Sunday of May—celebrated in many of the world’s countries as Mother’s Day.

Did you know? Mother’s Day yields the highest U.S. 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.


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.

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.

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.


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!

Ascension of the Lord (Ascension Day): Christians observe ancient, pivotal feast

stained glass, Jesus Ascension Day

Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 9 (or, in some denominations, observed on the nearest Sunday, MAY 12): As Pentecost approaches, the Christian church observes a 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.


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 40 days after Pascha.

Great and Holy Pascha: Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Resurrection of Jesus

Pink tulips, colored eggs, one fancy painted egg, in basket

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, MAY 5: The glorious day has arrived and millions of Christians the world over are rejoicing in the Resurrection of Jesus. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, today is the Great and Holy Pascha. So named because of its reference to Jesus, the paschal lamb (St. John indicates that Jesus was crucified at the time the paschal lambs were being killed), in addition to the historical occurrence of Jesus’ crucifixion during the Passover feast, Orthodox Christians hold dear the name of Pascha. The Orthodox Research Institute does indicate, however, that the word Easter may be used interchangeably with Pascha in mixed company, for both titles hail the same event that defines the very essence of Christianity: the Resurrection (and eventual Ascension) of Jesus.

Pascha services begin in the darkness of Saturday evening, running late into the night. Just before midnight, a celebrant walks to the church’s temporary “tomb,” and removes the cover sheet: and behold, Jesus is not there! The sheet is carried to the altar table, and at midnight, the magnificent Pascha procession begins.  (Learn more from Orthodox Church in America.)

The Paschal Troparion is sung, together with the verses of Psalm 68, which from now will signal the start of every service during the Easter season. In a church adorned in flowers, attendants face the Easter icon: an image of Christ destroying the gates of hell and freeing Adam and Eve from death. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly joyous; hymns announce victory over death, and all are invited to partake in the Holy Communion, of Christ, the Passover lamb.


Unlike the Western Christian Lenten fast, which prohibits meat just on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday, the Eastern Orthodox Lenten fast prohibits dairy and meat during the entire season—and so on Pascha, the feast is magnificent! A primary component of the Russian table today is pascha—a dense, cold cheesecake often made with curd cheese and dried fruits—alongside kulichi, soft fruit cakes. (Find an authentic recipe for pascha here. A recipe for kulich, or kulichi, is here.)

In Greece, grilled vegetables, bean salads, seafood and breads complement the centerpiece: the Pascha lamb. Spiced to perfection, the lamb (or, occasionally, goat) satisfies palates alongside the traditional tsoureki, a Greek bread that is decorated with red eggs. (Recipes for Greek lamb, soup, asparagus and tsoureki are in this article from National Public Radio.)

Why red eggs? Red eggs have long been an integral part of Eastern Orthodox Pascha, and with good reason: several legends tell of miracles that began with red eggs. In one, Mary Magdalene was bringing cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus, and when she saw the risen Jesus Christ, the eggs suddenly turned a vibrant red. In a different story, Mary Magdalene was spreading word of Jesus’ resurrection when she approached the doubtful Emperor of Rome. Upon her greeting, the emperor remarked that, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” With that, the egg turned a dark red. Yet another legend tells of Mary Magdalene’s egg turning red in the presence of Julius Caesar—and because of these miraculous stories, Orthodox Christians exchange red eggs at Pascha.

The next seven days—beginning today, on Pascha—are known as Bright Week, or Renewal Week.

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

Hanuman, for Hanuman Jayanti

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Passover seder table

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

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

Passover Basics

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A lot of work goes into Passover!

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

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

Baisakhi celebration, Sikh

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Baha'i temple, Ridvan

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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