Profiled Religious Observances
Special notes: The Baha’i faith uses a calendar which divides the year into 19 months with 19 days, as well as four intercalary days. It therefore has 365 days, just as the Gregorian calendar in common use internationally, so the holidays remain fixed on the same days from year to year. Baha’i holidays are customarily celebrated beginning sundown the day before the holiday unless otherwise noted. Holy days are distinguished from lesser days of importance by suspending work for the day. These holy days are marked with three asterisks (***). Major events appear in bold . Baha’is do not believe in clergy, which they preach is inherently corruptible, and so temple services are not generally a part of celebrations. They are largely individual in nature.
March 2-21 – The Nineteen Day Fast
During the Bahai month of Ala (Loftiness) all Baha’is between 15 and 70 are compelled to fast without food or drink from sunrise to sunset for the duration of the month. This is a time of meditation and contemplation, intended to rejuvenate the spirit for the coming New Year.
March 21 – Naw-Rúz (New Year)***
New Year’s is celebrated on the vernal equinox, a tradition long predating Baha’i in Persia .
April 21 – First Day of Ridvan – Declaration of Baha’u’llah***
Ridvan is a twelve-day festival commemorating the declaration by Baha’u’llah of his mission as “he whom God makes manifest”in the Najibiyyi Gardens of Baghdad . After his speech he departed for Constantinople . The first day commemorates the arrival of the prophet into the Gardens on the eve of his departure. Local and National Spiritual Assemblies are elected on this day. Commemorations are held at 3:00pm.
April 29 – Ninth Day of Ridvan***
The ninth day of the Ridvan festival commemorates the arrival of the family of Baha’u’llah into the Najibiyyi Gardens .
May 2 – Twelfth Day of Ridvan***
The twelfth day of the Ridvan festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s departure for Constantinople . It is the last day of the festival.
May 23 – Declaration of the B’ab***
This day marks the anniversary of the founding of Baha’i: on this day in 1844, the B’ab (whose self-adopted name means The Gate) declared his mission as the next prophet of God to Mulla Hussayn. Commemorations are held two hours after sunset.
May 29 – Ascension of Baha’u’llah***
On this day in 1892, Baha’u’llah passed away. Commemorations are held at 3am.
July 9 – Martyrdom of the B’ab***
On this day in 1850, the B’ab was executed by firing squad for his opposition to powerful Islamic clerics. Baha’is preach that all religions are a series of interventions by God that resulted in partial visions of Truth; thusly, they believe in freedom of religion, contending that all religions are true. Commemorations are held at noon on this day.
October 20 – Birth of the B’ab***
On this day in 1819, Siyyid Mírzá ‘Alí-Muhammad was born in Persia . He claims direct lineage from the Prophet Muhammad and at the age of 25 declared himself to be a new and independent Manifestation of God, taking on the title “the B’ab”. He foretold the coming of a Promised One, saying that he himself was “but a ring upon the hand of Him whom God shall make Manifest.”
November 12 – Birth of Baha’u’llah***
On this day in 1817, Mirza Husayn-Ali was born. He later took on the title “Bahá’u’lláh”, meaning “Glory of God”, and claimed to fulfill the B’ab’s prophecy of “He whom God shall make manifest”. He further claimed to be the Messenger of God prophesized in all great religious traditions.
November 26 – Day of the Covenant
This day is honored as a tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the eldest son of Baha’u’llah. He was chosen as Baha’u’llah’s successor, but held himself to be merely a servant of his father. His actual date of birth was May 23, but he would not permit celebration on that day because it coincides with the declaration of the B’ab. He instead designated this day for those who wanted to honor him.
November 28 – Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha
On this day in 1921, Baha’u’llah’s eldest son and chosen successor ‘Abdu’l-Baha passed away. Commemorations are held at 1am.
Special notes: Major holidays appear in bold.
January 14 – New Year (Mahayana)
Mahayanan countries celebrate the New Year on the first full moon of January.
January 29 – Chinese New Year (Chinese)
February 15 – Mahaparinirvana Day (Mahayana)
This day is celebrated by Mahayana Buddhists to commemorate the Buddha’s attaining enlightenment upon his death.
March 14 – Magha Puja Day/Sangha Day
The first full moon of March commemorates an event early in the Buddha’s teaching years. It is said that when he visited a monastery in Rajagaha city, 1250 Arhats personally ordained by the Buddha spontaneously returned from their wanderings to pay their respects to him.
April 13 – New Year (Theravada)
In Theravadin countries, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos, the new year is celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April.
May 13 – Buddha Day/Visakha Puja
On the full moon of May, Buddhists everywhere celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. It is the most important holiday of the year.
July 6 – Dalai Lama Birthday
July 11 – Asalha Puja Day
On the full moon day of July, Buddhists remember the Buddha’s first teaching (the turning of the wheel of dharma) to five ascetics at Deer Park. This day is also the beginning of the rains retreat season (Vassa), when monks in Theravadin countries enter the seclusion of monasteries to spend time in contemplation.
July 13 – Ulambana/Obon (Ancestor Day)
For a period of fifteen days leading up to this holiday, it is believed that the gates between the afterlife and the mortal world are opened and ghosts can visit the world. On the fifteenth day, Ulambana, Buddhists visit gravesites and make offerings to ancestors. This is primarily a Mahayanan tradition, but many Theravadins from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand also observe this festival. In Japan, the festival is called Obon and begins on July 13th, lasting for three days.
October-November – Kathina Ceremony
After the end of the three-month rains retreat season (Vassa Retreat), the laity offer new robes and other necessities to the monks. The holiday is held on any convenient date within one month of the end of Vassa, which is marked by the full moon of October.
December 8 – Bodhi Day/Rohatsu
Bodhi Day honors the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama — the Buddha. Buddhists observe the importance of this event by celebrating Bodhi Day usually on the eighth of December. The day is observed in many ways, including prayer, meditation, and teachings.
Special notes: Many Christian holidays have movable dates – they change from one year to the next according to various calculations. These holidays have been marked with an asterisk (*) and the description of the holiday includes information on how the date is calculated. The dates given are accurate for 2006. Major holidays appear in bold . Several of the same holidays are celebrated a week later by the Orthodox churches, who still use the original Gregorian calendar rather than the modern Julian calendar. These dates are noted but explanations are only listed under the Western dates of observance most commonly used in Richmond .
January 1 – Mary Mother of God (Catholic)
January 1 – Feast Day of St. Basil (Orthodox)
January 5 – Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night precedes Epiphany and thus functions similarly in relation to Epiphany as Christmas Eve to Christmas. So named for falling twelve nights after Christmas.
January 6 – Epiphany
Epiphany commemorates the visitation of the Magi upon Jesus Christ, the baptism of Jesus, and the wine miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11). It traditionally marked the beginning of the carnival season preceding Lent; in modern times this season is celebrated only in the three days preceding Lent.
January 6 – Dia de los Reyes/Day of Three Kings
January 7 – Feast of the Nativity (Orthodox)
January 8 – Baptism of the Lord Jesus
January 8 – Feast of the Holy Family (Catholic)
January 17 – Blessing of the Animals (Hispanic Orthodox)
January 18 – Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 25 – Conversion of St. Paul
February 2 – Candlemas
Candlemas marks the end of the Virgin Mary’s ritual uncleanliness through a purification ritual, and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple . The holiday is fixed 40 days after Christmas.
February 3 – St. Blaze Day
February 12 – Triodion (Orthodox)
February 14 – St. Valentine’s Day
St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in honor of two early Christian martyrs, both named Valentine. The tradition of giving romantic cards and notes on Valentine’s day is of unknown origin, and has been largely adopted by secular culture.
February 26 – Meat Fare Sunday (Orthodox)
*February 28 – Shrove Tuesday
Also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday marks the end of the carnival season that precedes Lent. This season traditionally began at Epiphany, but in modern times begins three days before Lent.
*March 1 – Ash Wednesday, Lent Begins (ends April 8)
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting and prayer. It falls 46 days before Easter Sunday – anywhere between February 4 and March 10. In the Catholic and Episcopal churches, evening services are held in which the palms blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burnt. The ashes are mixed with oil and smudged on the foreheads of church members in the shape of a cross.
March 1 – St. David of Wales
March 5 – Cheesefare Sunday (Orthodox)
March 6 – Lent begins (Orthodox)
March 12 – Orthodoxy Sunday (Orthodox)
March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in honor of the patron saint of Ireland . It has been adopted by secular culture as a celebration of all things Irish – especially Irish drink and the color green. The date is fixed; however, in church calendars it is moved to Monday when it falls on a Sunday (this is not reflected in secular celebrations of the holiday). Lenten fasts are traditionally broken during this day.
March 19 – St. Joseph ‘s Day
March 25 – Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary
*April 9 – Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is calculated as the Sunday before Easter Sunday and marks the beginning of Holy Week. It commemorates an event recorded in all four Christian gospels – the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem days before his execution. According to tradition, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a colt and the people of Jerusalem laid palm branches on the ground as he passed. (Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19)
April 12 – Lord’s Evening Meal (Jehovah’s Witness)
*April 13 – Maundy Thursday
Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and falls three days before Easter Sunday.
*April 14 – Good Friday
Good Friday or Holy Friday commemorates the execution of Jesus by Roman soldiers. It is celebrated on the Friday before Easter Sunday.
April 15 – Lazarus Saturday (Orthodox)
April 16 – Palm Sunday (Orthodox)
*April 16 – Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. It is calculated according to standards set forth in 325 CE at the First Council of Nicaea , convened by Roman Emperor Constantine. At that time, tables were constructed to determine the date of Easter according to the movement of an ecclesiastical moon which generally, but not exactly, follows the motions of the astronomical moon. Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon the appears after the ecclesiastical vernal equinox. Although the true vernal equinox shifts from year to year, in the church it is fixed on March 21. Therefore, Easter Sunday can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. A tool for determining the date of Easter in a given year can be found here . Easter, along with Christmas, is one of the two biggest festivals in the Christian tradition. Many Christians who do not regularly attend church attend on Easter Sunday.
April 21 – Holy Friday (Orthodox)
April 23 – Easter (Orthodox)
April 30 – St. James the Great day (Orthodox)
May 3 – Saints Phillip and James
May 25 – Ascension of Christ
May 31 – Feast of the Visitation (Catholic)
June 1 – Ascension of Jesus (Orthodox)
*June 4 – Pentecost
Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles. It is fixed seven Sundays after Easter.
June 9 – St. Columba of Iona (Celtic)
June 11 – Trinity
June 11 – Pentecost (Orthodox)
June 15 – Corpus Christi (Catholic)
June 18 – All Saints (Orthodox)
June 18 – Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Catholic)
June 19 – New Church Day (Swedenborgian)
June 23 – Sacred Heart of Jesus (Catholic)
June 24 – Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 29 – Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul
July 1 – Most Precious Blood of Jesus (Catholic)
July 11 – St. Benedict Day (Catholic)
July 15 – St. Vladimir the Great Day (Orthodox)
July 24 – Pioneer Day (Mormon)
July 25 – St. James the Great Day
August 1 – Lammas
Lammas traditionally marked the first wheat harvest of the year. On this day it was customary to bring a loaf of bread from the new crop to church.
August 6 – Transfiguration of the Lord (Orthodox)
August 15 – Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic)
August 15 – Dormition of the Theotokos (Orthodox)
August 29 – Beheading of John the Baptist
September 1 – Religious year begins (Orthodox)
September 8 – Nativity of Virgin Mary
September 11 – New Year/Nayrouz (Coptic)
September 14 – Elevation of the Life Giving Cross
September 21 – St. Matthew’s Day
September 29 – St. Michael and All Angels
October 4 – St. Francis Day (Catholic)
October 4 – Blessing of the Animals
October 6 – St. Thomas Day (Orthodox)
October 18 – St. Luke, Apostle & Evangelist
October 28 – Milvian Bridge Day
October 31 – All Hallows Eve
All Hallows Eve is celebrated the eve before All Saints’ Day. In secular culture it has been appropriated as an eve of mischief-making known as Halloween, borrowing more traditions from pagan cultures than from Christian practice.
October 31 – Reformation Day (Protestant)
November 1 – All Saints’ Day
Originally celebrated on May 13, All Saints’ Day is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all martyrs. The date was moved in the eighth century to November 1 to commemorate the dedication of the All Saints’ Chapel in Rome .
November 2 – All Souls’ Day (Catholic)
November 15 – Nativity Fast begins – ends Dec. 24 (Orthodox)
November 21 – Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic)
November 26 – Christ the King
November 30 – St. Andrew’s Day
*December 3, 10, 17, 24 – Sundays of Advent
The Advent season begins on the Sunday closest to November 30. It is a prelude to Christmas, with one candle traditionally lit on the first Sunday, and an additional candle each Sunday afterwards. The four candles represent hope, peace, joy, and love. In some traditions, a fifth candle is lit on Christmas Day honoring the birth of Jesus. Another popular tradition is the Advent Calendar, a calendar with a small door representing each day. Traditional advent calendars concealed pictures of angels and Biblical figures, while modern secular calendars often hide pieces of chocolate behind each door.
December 6 – St. Nicholas Day
December 8 – Immaculate Conception of Mary (Catholic)
December 10 – Second Sunday of Advent
December 12 – Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Catholic)
December 16-25 – Posadas Navidenas (Hispanic)
December 17 – Third Sunday of Advent
December 21 – Yule
December 21 – St. Thomas Day
December 24 – Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve precedes Christmas Day. In earlier days, Christmas trees were erected on this day, but in modern times the Christmas season has been greatly extended, and trees have likely been up for weeks by Christmas Eve. Most churches hold Christmas Eve services, and the Catholic Church holds a midnight mass to mark the beginning of Christmas Day.
December 25 – Christmas
Christmas is a fixed holiday occurring on December 25 and commemorating the birth of Jesus, believed by Christians to be their Savior. Tradition holds that Jesus is the son of God, conceived by the Virgin Mary. It is, along with Easter, one of the two major holidays of the Christian tradition. It is a federal holiday and is customarily celebrated by gathering and exchanging gifts with friends and family. Other traditions associated with Christmas are Yule logs, Christmas wreaths, Christmas trees, and Christmas caroling. Many Christians who do not otherwise attend church will attend on Christmas.
December 26 – Feast of the Nativity (Orthodox)
December 26 – St. Stephen’s Day
December 28 – Holy Innocents
December 30 – Holy Family (Catholic)
December 31 – Watch Night
December 31 – Feast of the Holy Family (Catholic)
September 28 – Confucius’s Birthday
Confucius’s birth on this day in 551 BCE is celebrated with a dawn ceremony includes a ritual dance, costumes, music, and other rites. Confucius held the radical view that all who possessed the depth and desire to learn, not just the aristocracy, deserved the opportunity for formal education. For this reason, his birthday, September 28, is also celebrated as Teacher’s Day.
Special notes: Hinduism is a broad term encompassing a variety of regional religious practices that are similar to each other. However, there is considerable variation in customs from one Indian region or state to the next. Different regions may celebrate the same holiday on a different day, or for a different reason, or in a different way, than other regions. Some holidays may not have equivalent forms in all regions of the country. In this guide, similar holidays are explained together, with details of regional variation included. Most holidays are determined by the Hindu calendar, a lunar calendar, so the days shift slightly from year to year. Exceptions to this are noted with a carat (^). The most commonly celebrated and important holidays appear in bold .
January 13-January 14 – Lohri (Northern India/Punjab)/Makar Sankranti (Central and Southern India )/Pongal Sankrati (Tamil Nadu) ^
Lohri, Makar Sankranti, and Pongal Sankranti are similar holidays celebrated in the middle of January in India . They are all fire festivals and take place at the time when the sun is furthest from the earth, after which temperatures will warm again.
In Punjab and other northern states, Lohri is celebrated just before the harvest of the wheat crop that is a staple of the region. It marks the beginning of the period of Utturayan, which the Bhagavad Gita teaches is the time when Lord Krishna manifests himself fully. In the morning of Lohri, children go door to door demanding token sums of money or edible treats, and sing songs in homage to Dulha Bhatti, a Punjab figure much like Robin Hood who robbed the rich to provide for the poor. In the evening, a bonfire is lit and people circle around and throw munchies like popcorn and puffed rice into the fire as a tribute to the fire god Agni, shouting, “May honor come and poverty vanish!”After the bonfire, symbolic gifts are exchanged, and the men perform the ritual Bhangra dance late into the night around the bonfire. Women traditionally perform their own gidda dance at a separate fire. Lohri is an especially important day for newlywed couples and newborn children celebrating their first Lohri. If a family has had a marriage or male son born in the preceding year, they will host a feast for friends and relations.
In the southern and central regions of India , the holiday is called Makar Sankrati because it is on this day that the sun enters the sign of Makar, or Capricorn. This signifies the beginning of its northward journey and warmer temperatures. It is also the end of monsoon season in southeast India . The sun is symbolic of Lord Brahman and his ascendency is considered one of the most auspicious days of the year. On this day people immerse themselves in the waters of holy rivers, exchange gifts, visit family (especially fathers and sons), and prepare sweet foods to be eaten in honor of the auspicious time. In the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, this holiday is a 4 day festival called Pongal, which name means literally “to boil over”. The holiday coincides with the rice harvest. The first day, called Bhogi, is devoted to cleaning out the old and unwanted items in the house and burning them in a community bonfire. The second and most important day, Surya, is devoted wholly to worship of the sun god. Women rise early to create elaborate patterns of colored rice powder on the ground in front of their homes, often taking hours to complete. Everyone wears new clothes, and the new rice is boiled until it overflows, while the people shout, “Pongal!”Pongal is also the name of a special dish prepared this night from rice, dhal, and sugar. On the third day, Maatu (meaning cattle), cows and bulls are honored. They are decorated with paint and bells, prayed to, presented with fire, and given food offerings (usually pongal). In some villages bull fights are held where the competitors must attempt to tie the bull to a tree to claim the reward tied to his horns. These may be less common in recent times. The last day, Kaanum, is a day for visiting family and showing respect for elders, who give small, token sums of money to the younger ones. Many also leave food out for birds to eat on this day.
February 2 – Vasant Panchami/Sri Panchami/Saraswati Puja
Vasant Panchami is celebrated on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. It marks the beginning of spring, and also a puja (a celebratory worship) for Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and learning. She is the daughter of Lord Shiva and the goddess Durga, and the mother of the Vedas. She is believed to have endowed humans with speech and learning. On this day, children are taught their first words, and centers of learning such as colleges and schools organize special prayer services. The god of love, Kamadeva, is also often worshipped on this day. The color yellow is favored, with people dressing in yellow, decorating their houses and Saraswati statues with yellow flowers, and exchanging foods tinted yellow with saffron.
February 26 – Maha Shivaratri
This festival is celebrated every year on the waning moon fortnight, just before the new moon of the month of Phalgun. It is a night sacred to Lord Shiva and is a particularly important holiday for a large subset of the Hindu population known as Saivites that primarily worship Shiva. There are a number of stories regarding Shiva that lend customs to this day. In one story, the gods held vigil for an ill Shiva for an entire night, so on this day Hindus often hold vigils for Shiva, fasting from all but fruit and milk, practicing Dhyana meditation, and performing puja (celebratory worship) for Shiva. Because it is said that Shiva is kept numb with opium to prevent him from destroying the world, on this night his devotees will prepare a brew from milk, almonds, and cannabis. In homage to Shiva’s legendary manifestation as an impossibly long column of fire, bonfires are lit and the people dance around them with drums. The day is considered particularly auspicious for women.
March 14 – Holi
Holi, celebrated in connection with the vernal equinox, is the festival of colors. In western India , it also coincides with the harvest of the wheat crop. This day is celebrated to commemorate the victory of goodness over evil. Forgetting all differences people play with each other. The night before there is burning of the Holi-fire, after which all celebrations start. There are two deities associated with the bonfire – Visnu, who is said to have saved a devoted follower from the flames while allowed the wicked Holika to be burned; and Shiva, who is said to have incinerated the disguised god of love with flames shot from his third eye. The holiday also has special associations with one of Visnu’s avatars, Krishna . It is said that once when he complained of being too dark-skinned his mother advised him to paint colors of the face of his paler-skinned brother. The social norms of polite conduct are largely disregarded on this day as typical social barriers (age, sex, or caste) are ignored. People run and shout in the streets and spray each other with water and colored powders, in homage to Krishna .
March 30-April 6 – Ramanavami
Ramanavami is a twelve-day festival celebrating the birth of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Visnu. His story is told in the Hindu epic Ramayana, and his worship is immensely popular with the Hindu people. The holiday is celebrated on the ninth day in the bright half of Chaitra. This day is a very auspicious day to be married and those who do will be blessed with peace and prosperity.
April 13 – Hanuman Jayanti
On the full moon of Chaitra, at sunrise, the birth of Hanuman is celebrated. He was an ape, believed to be an incarnation of Shiva, who aided Rama in his expedition. He is worshipped as the embodiment of strength, perseverence, and devotion. Hanuman temples are among the most common and popular shrines in India .
April 30 – Akshaya Tritiya/Akha Teej
Akshaya Tritiya falls on the third day of the bright half of Vaishakh, and it is believed that any meaningful activity begun on this day will be fruitful. It is celebrated as the birthday of Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Visnu. Ganesa and Laksmi are worshipped on this day, along with puja for Parasurama, bathing in holy rivers, and offering barley to a bonfire.
May 13 – Buddha Purnima
On the full moon of Vaishakh, the Buddha was born, was enlightened, and attained Nirvana when he died. Because of this coincidence, this day is set aside with reverence to him. Although the leader of a reform movement from Hinduism (Buddhism), most Hindus regard Buddha as either an incarnation of Visnu, or at least an exceptional Hindu. In some areas, such as Nepal , the two religions are not clearly distinguished from each other.
August 9 – Raksha Bandhan/Rahki Purnima/Kajri Purnima (Northern India)/Nariyal Purnima (Western India)/Shravan Purnima ( Southern India )
On the full moon of Shravan, Hindus honor the bond between a brother and a sister through ritual. Sisters, on this day, tie a Rahki bracelet (usually made of silk and embroidered and studded with jewels) onto the wrist of their brother. These bracelets are also given to close friends in the community that are not related, as a symbol of a special intimacy that transcends blood lines. Young girls will also often sent Rahki bracelets to male friends who they suspect may desire a romantic relationship, to establish a brother-sister relationship instead. Rahki bracelets have also been recorded as objects of political truce in Indian history. Legend holds that the Hindu King Porus did not strike down Alexander the Great because Alexander’s wife had sent him a Rahkti bracelet prior to the battle. In Northern India , Rakhi Purnima is also called Kajri Purnima or Kajri Navami, when wheat or barley is sown, and goddess Bhagwati is worshipped.
August 16 – Krishna Janmashtami
The birth of Krishna , eighth avatar of Visnu, is celebrated at midnight on the 8 th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravan. A 24-hour fast is kept on this day and broken at midnight. House are decorated and special Temple services are held with festive decorations, songs, bell ringing, and reading from the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna figures prominently. Many Hindus also make a pilgrimage to Mathura , where Krishna was born, to attend special gatherings.
August 27 – Ganesha Chaturthi
Ganesha is one of the five most prominent Hindu deities – the elephant god who bring success to his devotees and destroys obstacles. In preparation for this holiday, a clay statue of the god is made 2-3 months in advance. On the day of the festival, it is displayed and paid homage. Life is invoked into the idol through a ritual known as pranapratishhtha, which is followed by shhodashopachara – sixteen ways of paying tribute. Offerings are given and the idol is annointed, while Vedic hymns and Ganesha stotra are chanted. For ten days he is worsipped, and on the eleventh day he is taken to the sea in a singing and dancing procession. A final offering is made, and then he is carried into the water, taking the misfortunes of man with hiim.
September 23-October 2 – Navaratri (Northern India)/Durga Puja ( Eastern India ) and Dusshera
Navatari, meaning nine nights, is a festival that last the first nine days of the bright half of Aashwayuja. Navaratri honors the three goddesses Durga, goddess of strength and courage; Laksmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity; and Saraswati, goddess of knowledge and learning, for three days each. All three goddesses are aspects of the Great Mother goddess, sometimes called Devi, other times called Shakti. In many areas, there is a fast for the nine days. An odd number of steps is erected in the home and used to display idols; this setup is called Golu. Women will visit each other’s homes and pay homage to each other’s Golu. The Durga Puja is particularly prominent in Eastern India , and takes places on the seventh, eighth, and ninth days of Navaratri. Huge public prayer services are held, along with mass feeding and charity to the poor. On the tenth day, the goddess idols are ceremonially immersed into the sea, signfying the end of their visit. The tenth day is also known as Dusshera and marks the defeat of the demon Ravana in the popular epic Ramayana. Huge effigies of the demon are burnt and firecrackers are lit.
October 9 – Laksmi Puja
Celebrated on the full moon night of Kojagari, Laksmi is honored. She is the goddess of both material and spiritual prosperity, and is the household goddess of most homes. On the full moon night following Dusshera or Durga Puja , Hindus worship Laksmi ceremonially at home, pray for her blessings, and invite neighbors to attend the puja. On this night, it is believed Laksmi will visit homes and bestow prosperity upon the inhabitants.
October 21 – Diwali/Deepavali and Kali Puja
Beginning on the fortnight of the bright half of Kartika, Diwali is a five day festival that is more widely celebrated than any other in Hinduism. To some it is the Hindu New Year. In some regions the goddess Kali, the fearful Dark Mother born from Durga’s brow in the heat of battle, is given special puja during this festival. Laksmi is the most prominent deity during this festival, given an entire day of dedication. Lanterns are lit in front of houses from the first day, firecrackers are lit in celebration, and sisters go to visit brothers on the last day.
April 11 – Sri Mahavir Jayanti
This day celebrates the birth of the 24th and last great Jain Tirthankar (teacher) over 2500 years ago. Mahavir is acknowledged as the founder of Jainism.
April 30 – Akshya Tritiya
This day commemorates the first Tirthankar, Rishabh, breaking his first one-year fast. It is believed that when the world is deteriorating into evil, Tirthankars are sent to teach the people how to achive moksha (spiritual liberation).
August 28-September 5 – Paryushana-parva/Samvatatsari
For the conservative Shvetambara sect, Paryushana-parva is an eight-day festival leading up to Samvatatsari on the final day. This is the holiest period of the year for these Jains. Samvatatsari is spent in introspection and reflection on one’s living up to Jain ideals. For the more liberal Digambara sect, Paryushana-parva is a ten-day festival beginning with Samvatatsari, and ending with Ananta-Chaturdasi – the Festival of Ten Virtues – which to them is the holiest day of the year.
September 26 – Ksamavani
This important day falls on the fourteenth day of the lunar month Bhadrapad. It is known as the “Day of Forgiveness”. On this day, Jains approach the members of their community (of all religions) and ask forgiveness for all the faults and wrongs they have committed, with or without knowing it, in the past year. This is an important step toward enlightenment in Jain philosophy.
October 21 – Diwali
This is the same festival of lights for Sikhs that it is for Hindus, but with the additional significance of commemorating the enlightenment of the last Tirthankar, Mahariva, on this day.
Special notes: Jewish Holidays are based on the Hebrew calendar, which marks time by the passage of the moon rather than the sun. As such, all Jewish holidays are moveable on the Gregorian civil calendar used internationally. Dates are given for the year 2006. Additionally, these holiday celebrations customarily begin at sundown on the preceding day, because sunset is considered the beginning of a new day in the Hebrew calendar. Major Holy Days appear in bold , while designated High Holy Days appear in bold and are marked with a double asterisk (**).
February 13 – Tu B’shvat
March 14 – Purim
Purim, celebrated on the 14 th day of Adar, is a joyous holiday commemorating the deliverance of Persian Jews from Haman’s plot to exterminate them. The book of Esther, which tells the story of this legendary event, is publicly recited on this day. In addition, gifts of food and drink are exchanged, charity is given to the poor, a celebratory feast is held, and people often wear masks and costumes. As with the other holy days, special prayers are inserted into Temple service specific to this day.
April 13-20 – Pesach/Passover
Passover, along with Shavuot and Sukkot, marks one of three times a year when Jews traveled to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem . Celebrated on the 15 th day of Nisan, it commemorates the Exodus and the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt . The name derives from scriptural accounts of the Ten Plagues sent upon the Egyptian people by the Hebrew God. The final plague was the killing of the first-born son in every household. The Israelites’ doors were smeared with the blood of Passover sacrifice and their homes were “passed over” by the Angel of Death. It is an eight-day festival, the primary obligations of which are the eating of matzo, unleavened bread, with bitter herbs (lettuce or horseradish) on the first night, and the abstinence from chametz, leavened bread, for the remainder of the festival. Temple services include special prayers and the book of Exodus is read from.
May 16 – Lag B’Omer
June 2 – Shavuot
Shavuot is celebrated on the sixth day of Sivan. It is one of three biblical pilgrimages mandated by the Torah, along with Sukkot and Passover. Its date is fixed in reference to Passover: on the second day of Passover, the Torah mandates a counting period (the Counting of Omer) which culminates on the 50 th day with Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Although there are no observances mandated by the Torah, there are many customs that have come down through the years. As with other holy days there are special prayer services, festival meals, and abstinence from work. The customary book read during this time is the book of Ruth, and dairy foods are traditionally consumed. Additionally, homes are often decorated with greenery.
August 3 – Tisha B’ay
September 23 – Rosh Hashana**
Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, celebrated on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, which is the first month of the Hebrew year. It is considered the anniversary of the completion of Creation and is also seen as a time when God judges His people’s actions in the preceding year. It marks the first day of Yamim Noraim, meaning Days of Awe, a ten-day period of contemplation and repentance. Customs include the addition of religious poetry to temple services, and the tashlihk, a symbolic throwing of stones or bread crumbs into moving waters to cast away sin.
October 2 – Yom Kippur**
Yom Kippur marks the end of Yamim Noraim, the most solemn days of the Jewish year. It is celebrated on the tenth day of Tishri. It is on this day that God’s judgement of men is sealed. It is considered the holiest day of the year and is commemorated with a 25 hour fast from sundown to sundown. Special prayers are recited and men must wear a Tallit, a four-corned prayer garment, on this day alone during the year. In some communities, prayer is continuous from morning to nightfall. Many secular Jews who do not otherwise observe Jewish tradition will fast and attend synagogue on Yom Kippur.
October 7-13 – Sukkot
Sukkot is an eight-day harvest festival, and a millennia ago was considered the most important time of the year. It begins on the 15 th day of Tishri. Along with Passover and Shavuot, it is one of the three times of year when Jews made pilgrimages to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem . The primary symbol of Sukkot is the sukkah, a temporary dwelling structure, wholly or partially open to the sky, reminiscent of those used by the Israelites during their 40-year exile in the desert. It is symbolic of God’s benevolence in providing for his people during those years. Men are required to lesheiv, eat and sleep in these dwellings, and women are permitted but usually not required to do so. (Conservative Jews require all men and women above the age of b’nai mitzvah to lesheiv.) A special blessing is said over all food eaten in the sukkah.
October 14 – Shemini Atzeret
October 15 – Simchat Torah
December 16-24 – Hanukkah
Hanukkah (alternatively spelled Chanukah) is also known as the Festival of Lights and is celebrated on the 25 th day of Kislev. It is an eight-day celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus IV. According to the Talmud, when the temple flame was rekindled, there was only enough oil to fuel the flame for one day. Miraculously, the flame is said to have burned for eight days – the amount of time required to prepare new oil. The oil miracle, symbolic of the persistent survival of the Jewish people, is commemorated by the lighting of candles on a menorah, a seven-branched candelabra fueled by olive oil. A new candle is lit each evening. As usual, special prayers are inserted into Temple services, but unlike the other Holy Days, Jews are not required to refrain from work for this week.
Special notes: Muslim holidays are determined according to a lunar calendar and as a consequence, they come progressively earlier in the Gregorian calendar from one year to the next. In the absence of ecclesiastical moon charts, dates are approximated in advance but are always pending the actual sighting of the phase of the moon that the holiday is tied to. Major holidays appear in bold . Holiday celebrations typically begin at sunset the day before the actual date, as sundown is seen as the start of the new day. Dates are given for 2006.
January 8 – Waqf al-Arafa
January 10 – Eid al-Adha
January 31 – Al-Hijral Muharram
Al-Hijral Muharram is the Muslim New Year, falling on the first day of the first lunar month, Muharram. There is no explicit religious significance to the day, so observances vary. A recent trend has been the exchanging of cards and gifts on the day, but there are many Muslims who still do not. Sunni Muslims believe the first caliph, Abu Bakr, died on this day. For this reason, some see it as a somber day. Shi’a Muslims have set aside the entire month of Muharram as a month of mourning for Imam Hussain, an early Muslim martyr.
February 9 – Ashura
Ashura is celebrated on the tenth day of Muharram, the day that the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain was martyred at the Battle of Karbala . Shi’a Muslims believe Hussain to be the third Imam and the Prophet’s rightful successor. His martyrdom is seen as a symbol of struggle against tyranny and injustice, and many Shi’as make pilgrimages to Karbala on this day. Mourning is expressed through symbolic beating of the chest, or in some rare case, self-flagellation. The Sunnis do not emphasize Hussain’s martyrdom as greatly, but observe the day with fasting and prayer, a tradition that predated the death of Hussain. According to the Qur’an, when Muhammad arrived in Medina , the Jews there were fasting on the same day for Yom Kippur, and it was at that time that Muhammad made fasting on this day mandatory for all Muslims. In modern times it is no longer required, but very much recommended.
April 11 or 16 – Mawlid al-Nabi
Mawlid is celebrated on the twelfth day of Rabi-al-Awwal by Sunni Muslims and on the seventeenth day of Rabi-al-Awwal by Shi’a Muslims. The day celebrates the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. On this day, stories of the Prophet’s birth are recited by learned Muslim men, poems are read by children, gifts are exchanged, and a feast is held. Some very conservative sects, such as the Wahhabiyah, consider the holiday idolatrous and do not celebrate it.
August 22 – Lailat al-Miraj
September 9 – Lailat al-Bara’ah
September 24 – Ramadan begins (through Oct 23)
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar and is considered the holiest time of year. It was during this month that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. All Muslims over the age of 12 and in good health are required to fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Purity is emphasized and Muslims are expected to make a greater than usual effort to live by the teaching of Islam. Sunni Muslims also have special optional prayer services during the month; Shi’a Muslims do not follow this practice.
October 20 – Laylat al-qadr
October 20 – Jummatul Wida
October 24 – Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the tenth lunar month and the end of Ramadan. Fitr means “to break” and refers to the breaking of the Ramadan fast. Special prayer services are held very early in the morning. The rest of the day is a day of thanksgiving to visit with friends and family. Muslims pay zakat, or alms, during the month of Ramadan, which are distributed by mosques to the needy before the start of the Eid prayer. It is a day of peace and forgiveness.
December 29 – Hajj begins
December 30 – Waqf al-Arafa/Hajj Day
December 31 – Eid al-Adha
Eid al-Adha is celebrated on the tenth day of the lunar month Dhul Hijja. The story associated with this day is the story of the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, to Allah. Although the devil tried to dissuade him, he was faithful to Allah’s wishes. At the last moment, Allah provided a sheep for him to sacrifice instead. On this day, Muslims wear their finest clothes and those who can afford to do so sacrifice livestock. Those too poor to have sacrificial food are given food by the Muslim community. It also marks the end of the Pilgrimage or Hajj that many Muslims make each year to Mecca .
Modern Pagan Holidays
Special notes: Half of the pagan festivals are movable on the Gregorian calendar, these are denoted with a pound sign (#).
February 1 – Imbolc
Imbolc is a fire festival falling halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The festival is in honor of the Celtic goddess Brigid, a goddess of healing, arts, and bardic inspiration, associated with fire and fertility. The name Imbolc or Oimelc literally means “in the milk”, because at this early stage of the year signs of the approaching spring are seen in the lactating of ewes and the birth of lambs. Folk traditions include processions of a Brig doll made of straw, making Brigid’s crosses (known to some as God’s Eyes), and leaving food outside as an offering to Brigid, who is said to pass by houses on this night and bless any scraps of fabric left outside. Candles are also lit for the fire goddess – this is the origin of the Christian festival Candlemas.
March 21 – Ostara/Alban Eiler/Spring Equinox #
Ostara is celebrated on the vernal equinox which marks the beginning of Spring. Fertility symbols such as hares are venerated, as well as eggs, which are decorated. It is associated with the ancient mythological story of the son of the mother goddess being resurrected each spring from his death each winter. Christian and secular culture show the influence of this ancient holiday in their embrace of a similar fertility/resurrection motif in the celebration of Easter.
May 1 – Beltaine
Beltaine is a cross-quarter fire festival, meaning it falls halfway between an equinox and a solstice. Running between fires or jumping across them is said to earn the blessing of the gods on this day. Nature spirits are honored by casting wreaths of flowers into the water. Beltaine is one of three nights a year when faeries may be seen. The maypole has its origin in this festival, as does the custom of choosing a May Queen – a young maiden who was wed to the Green Man, the god of the woods. Their marriage symbolized the union of earth and sun. The entire month was in ancient times given to a celebration of fertility, in a free-spirited understanding that made the month disagreeable and unlucky for marriage. However, the fertility symbolism has been reinterpreted just the opposite by some modern pagans and to some degree in secular culture to make May a popular month for weddings in modern times.
June 21 – Litha/Alban Hefin/Midsummer/Summer Solstice #
On the day of the summer solstice, the sun is at its height of power. It is also one of the three nights when spirits of the Otherworld can be seen. Herbs and flowers, the yellow flower of St John’s Wort in particular, are collected and hung around houses to protect the inhabitants from harm. At this time of year hives are full with honey, thus giving the full moon after the solstice the name “Honey Moon”. The Honey Moon period following the playful fertility celebrations of Beltaine lends its name to the modern “honeymoon” following a wedding.
August 1 – Lughnasadh
Lughnasadh is a cross-quarter harvest festival falling between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. It is related to the Irish god Lugh, a god of crafts who led the other gods in battle. Lugh dedicated this festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died from exhaustion after clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. When the men of Ireland gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. These yearly Lughnasadh games were the forerunner to the modern Olympic Games. On this day trial handfastings (a form of marriage) took place. The couple would be married for a year and a day. If all went well the first year, they would be handfasted again the following year. The day is celebrated with sporting contests, storytelling, music, and good food and drink from the newly harvested crops. It is the origin of the Christian festival Lammas.
September 21 – Mabon/Alban Efed/Autumnal Equinox #
The autumnal equinox is the second harvest festival, and a holiday of thanksgiving. The harvest is stored to prepare for the fast-approaching winter. Foods such as apples, pomegranates, corn, acorns, and pine cones figure prominently in meals, ritual offerings, or both. A folk tradition of offering libations to trees continues.
November 1 – Samhain
Samhain is the third harvest festival and a cross-quarter fire festival as well. It is the third night of the year during which faeries may be seen in our realm, making it an auspicious night for divination. The day also coincides with the apple harvest. Apple-bobbing and apple mead are popular traditions. Some contend that Samhain was the Celtic New Year, although the evidence is for this conclusion is somewhat sketchy, and it is celebrated as such by some pagans today. On this day, offerings were made to venerate ancestors who could cross the boundary between worlds for one night. The modern celebration of Halloween most likely has its roots in these traditions.
December 21 – Yule/Winter Solstice #
Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice, and marks the turning point where the days begin to grow longer again, a sign that winter will soon be over. The burning of Yule logs, the hanging of boughs of mistletoe and holly, the exchange of gifts, and the erecting of trees adorned with candles all have their origin in this pagan festival celebrating the slow return of light and greenery to the world.
Special notes: Major holidays appear in bold.
January 1 – Shogatsu/Gantan-sai/New Year
The Japanese New Year falls on the same day as the western New Year. Leading up to the New Year, Shinto custom is to erect kadomatsu (“entrance pine”) from bamboo and pine branches as a point of welcome for visiting kami (spirits). A special cleaning of the entire house is also performed, known as susuharai (soot-sweeping). As the year winds down, bonenkai (end of the year parties) are celebrated with sake. To celebrate the new year, shinenaki (new year parties) are held. To ceremonially close out the old year toshi-koshi-soba, the last plate of noodles in a year, is eaten. For the first three days of the new year, special cold dishes are prepared, so that for a few days the housewife might not have to cook. People pay homage to their kamidana (miniature home shrines) and visit their local shrines on the first day of the new year
January 15 – Seijin-no-hi
On this day, town halls give gifts to all in the town who turned twenty in the past year. At this age a person is considered a full adult member of society. Twenty-year-olds will visit kami shrines on this day to ask their blessing.
February 3 – Setsebun
Setsebun marks the day before the first day of Spring on the old Japanese calendar. A Shinto custom is the throwing of beans to expel bad fortune and invoke good fortune. Special ceremonies are held at local shrines, at the beginning of which an arrow is shot to break the power of misfortune.
July 13 – Obon
Originally a Buddhist holiday, Shinto custom on this day is to venerate ancestors by visiting and cleaning gravesites. Extended families gather together for this holiday and there are street festivals (Bon Odori) with food, drink, and dancing.
Special Notes: Some Sikh holidays follow the solar calendar and have a fixed date from year to year, while others follow the Hindu lunar calendar and have a movable date. There are fewer movable holidays since 1999, when the Sikh community accepted a new solar calendar called the Nanekshahi Calendar. Those holidays with movable dates are marked with a double carat (^^). Major holidays that commemorate the birth or martyrdom of gurus, known as gurpurbs , appear in bold . Lesser holidays are known as melas.
January 5 – Birthday of Guru Gobindh Singh
Celebrated on the 23rd day of the month of Poh in the Nanekshahi calendar. Guru Gobind Singh was the tenth Guru, born in 1666. He is significant for founding the Khalsa, the militant order of Sikhs, and for naming the Granth Sahib, holy Sikh scripture, as his successor in Guruship.
January 13 – Maghi
Maghi commemorates the martyrdom of the “Forty Immortals.” These forty followers of Guru Gobind Singh had previously deserted him, but were martyred in Muktsar fighting the Mughals. Guru Gobind Singh blessed them as having achieved mukti (liberation) and cremated them at Muktsar. On Maghi, Sikhs visit gurdwaras and listen to kirtan (hymns). An annual fair is held at Muktsar.
January 31 – Birthday of Guru Har Rai
March 14 – New Year’s Day
The first day of the month of Chet, March 14, is the Sikh New Year by the Nanekshahi Calendar.
March 14 – Hola Mohalla ^^
This holiday is celebrated on the day of the Hindu festival of Holi, and is thus a movable holiday. It is honored in memory of the tenth Guru Gobind Singh, who dedicated the day to military exercises and mock battles, along with music and poetry contests. The tradition continues to this day.
April 14 – Vaisakhi
Originating from a Hindu festival of thanksgiving, the Sikhs commemorate the founding of the Khalsa in 1699 on the first day of the month of Vaisakh. Initiates to the Khalsa are baptized on this day.
April 18 – Birthday of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Angad
May 2 – Birthday of Guru Arjan
May 23 – Birthday of Guru Amar
June 16 – Martyrdom of Guru Arjan
This day commemorates the matrydom of the fifth Guru Arjan, who was tortured and killed by the Mughal emperor Jahangir in 1606.
July 5 – Birthday of Guru Hargobind
July 23 – Birthday of Guru Harkrishan
September 1 – Birthday of Granth Sahib
On this day the holy scripture of the Sikhs, the Granth Sahib, was finished and installed in the Golden Temple by Guru Arjan in 1604.
October 9 – Birthday of Guru Ram Das
October 20 – Installation of Scriptures as Guru Granth Sahib
October 21 – Diwali/Deepavali ^^
This movable holiday is fixed to the Hindu holiday Diwali (the festival of lights), but in Sikh custom honors the release of Guru Harbogind from prison in 1619. Upon his release, the Golden Temple was lit up, and in keeping this tradition Sikhs light lamps at home and in the Golden Temple on this day.
November 5 – Birthday of Guru Nanak ^^
The birth of the first Guru Nanak Dev Sahib in 1469 has traditionally been celebrated on the Poornamashi (full moon) of thelunar month of Katik. This continues despite the adoption of fixed dates for other gurpubs.
November 24 – Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahdur
The ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed by the emperor Aurangzeb in November 1675.
Special notes: Movable holidays are markEd with a triple carat (^^^).
May 21 – Norooz/New Year
The vernal equinox is celebrated as the beginning of the New Year for Zoroastrians primarily in Iran and of Iranian descent. Turkey has also adopted this day as the New Year. Zarathustra, the religion’s founder, played a role in refining the Indo-Iranian calendar. Houses are thoroughly cleaned a month beforehand, vegetable seeds are pre-soaked and sprouted in advance, and an elaborate thankgiving table is arranged. The table displays the sprouts, as well as grains, flowers, fruits, coins, and breads, but the most significant element is the seven bowls, each of which contains a dessert or delicious food that starts with the same letter as each of the other foods. People visit friends and family during this time, younger family members are given gifts by elders, and on the thirteenth day of the New Year, it is customary to spend the day outdoors enjoying the countryside.
May 26 – Khordad Sal (Birth of Prophet Zarathustra)
The birth of Zarathustra is celebrated on the sixth day of the first month of the year. He is believed to have lived at the beginning of the first millenia, BCE. He was the founder of the world’s first ethical monotheism. On this day new clothes are worn, delicious meals are prepared for a grand feast, and Jashan (thanksgiving prayers) are offered to God in agiaries.
December 26 – Zarathost No Deeso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra)
The day given to commemorating the death of the Prophet Zarathustra is a somber occasion, with the result that most customs on this day are small, private, solemn affairs. Special prayer sessions are organized and prayers are recited with religious discourses focusing on the life and works of the Prophet. Zoroastrians visit the Fire Temple to pray.
November 23 – Thanksgiving
May 4 – National Day of Prayer ( USA )
February 5 – Four Chaplains Sunday