Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time. December 3 is the start of Advent this year. Candles of the Advent wreath are lit each Sunday in anticipation of the birth of Jesus on the night of Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, families usually attend church together and share meals of traditional foods while exchanging gifts.
The story of Jesus’ birth is one of the most familiar in the world; When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, they sought shelter at the inn but they were turned away and Jesus was born in a nearby manger. Three wise men arrived to honor the newborn because they’d received a premonition that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would one day be king.
According to some Christian traditions, the Christmas season then continues for twelve days, starting with St. Stephen’s Day on December 26th and concluding with the Epiphany, or “Three Kings Day” on January 7.
Christianity’s Dangerous Past Saint Stephen is believed to be the first of the Christian martyrs, killed for preaching about the life and death of Jesus.
When Stephen was stoned to death in the streets of Jerusalem in 34 AD, a man named Saul was in a nearby crowd. Saul was a wealthy, upper-class Jewish man known for his severe treatment of Christians. After witnessing Stephen’s death, Saul was walking on the road to Damascus where he claims Jesus appeared to him and told him to stop persecuting Christians.
Soon after, Saul converted to Christianity. He took the name Paul and became one of the most important first-century missionaries.
As Paul and the Twelve Apostles traveled through present-day regions of Europe, Greece, and Rome, each of them were said to have died violent deaths similar to St. Stephen’s. Only the Apostle John survived into old age, contributing a gospel and three epistles to the New Testament. Within 350 years, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The celebration of the “Festival of Lights” occurs on the twenty-fifth day of the third month of the Jewish year, this year from December 13-20. Families gather to enjoy traditional foods while exchanging gifts and playing games.
Though most Jewish holidays originate within the books of the Torah, the events surrounding Hanukkah occurred in a series of battles from 161 – 167 BCE, as the Jews, led by Judas Maccabee and his brothers, rebelled against the Greek army and took control of their holy Temple in Jerusalem.
A miracle was said to have occurred as the Temple was being rededicated to the Jewish people; a single flask of lantern oil illuminated the temple for eight days. The candles of the Menorah are lit in remembrance of this event.
March 2, 2018 is the start of the Hindu “festival of colors” known as Holi. The triumph of good over evil is celebrated by lighting bonfires on the evening before, and then gathering to throw brightly colored powder at each other in a spirit of love and happiness.
Hindu tradition explains that the lighting of the bonfires represents the death of Holika, the evil sister of Prahlada. Holika’s father was angry and jealous that his son Prahlada was filled with peace as he worshiped the Hindu god Vishnu, and he plotted to kill Prahlada. He instructed Holika to lure her brother onto a pyre where he would light a fire that her magic shawl would protect her from while Prahlada would be killed. When the fire was lit, Vishnu intervened and caused the magic shawl to fly from Holika’s shoulders onto Prahlada, protecting him while the evil Holika was burned away.
The festive colors of Holi have a basis in Hindu mythology as well. The god Vishnu is often represented in the human world by Krishna, an indigo-colored boy playing a flute. Krishna was said to be so in love with Radha, the fair-skinned Hindu goddess, that he playfully sprinkled her with colored spices to make her look like him.
The history of Islam begins with the story of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, believed to be the last and most recent prophet chosen to receive God’s message to humanity.
According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad often prayed alone in the hills near the city of Mecca. One day, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and recited the first of many revelations about the one true God, Allah. Muhammad talked with others about how they should stop worshiping the idols of their separate religions and pray only to Allah while striving to live in peace with one another. He eventually wrote down the revelations as the 114 chapters of the Quran.
May 15, 2018 is the start of Ramadan, celebrated in remembrance of Muhammad’s prophecies and the beginning of the religion of Islam.
Though Buddhist traditions vary from one community to another, Vesak is the most celebrated festival of the year, usually observed in the month of May.
Buddhists believe that on Vesak, or “Buddha Day”:
• Siddhartha Gautama was born in the year 563 BCE in Nepal
• He became Buddha, or “the enlightened one” about 35 years later
• He passed away from natural causes at the age of 83
Vesak is a day of prayer and meditation. Small gifts are brought to Buddhist monks as they chant the ancient teachings of the Buddha. Colorful artwork and paper lamps represent the lightness of Buddha’s soul as he inspires the younger generation. In 2018, Buddha Day is celebrated on May 29th.
The Torah tells the stories of the Hebrew people, the prophets and their descendants that received God’s laws and traveled to the “promised land” of modern-day Israel. The Torah was written in the Hebrew language, and Hebrew was spoken by the Israelites for centuries, eventually being replaced by Aramaic when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
In the 18th century, the Jewish Enlightenment resulted in a revival of many of the ancient traditions of Judaism. At that time, Hebrew was only being taught in synagogues in order to study the original text of the Hebrew Bible. A Jewish scholar named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) worked to bring the ancient Hebrew language into the twentieth century, and today it’s one of two official languages spoken within Jewish communities in Israel and around the world.
Hindus believe that an ultimate power, Brahman, exists in the universe. This energy is divine in nature, eternal and unchanging, and is embodied by three separate gods or deities; Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Shiva the destroyer.
As these three gods interact, the universe is continually being renewed; Brahma creates life, Vishnu protects and preserves what is good while Shiva destroys harmful qualities that result in negative karma. This process of birth, death, and rebirth continues in a cycle that represents the Hindu concept of reincarnation.
In the twelveth century, the man history would come to know as Saint Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in Assisi, Italy.
His father had just returned home from a journey to France, and he immediately rechristened his new-born son “Francesco” after the country where his business had recently prospered. Francis was raised to be a cloth merchant like his father. He was educated, served in the military, and as a typical youth he lacked self-discipline and rebelled against his overbearing father.
In his 20’s, Francis searched for his own identity and often retreated into the forest to pray. He felt called by God to rebuild a crumbling church in the countryside near Assisi. When he stole cloth from his father to purchase stone and tools, he was taken to court to be reprimanded. Instead of agreeing to repay his father, Francis denounced his family and vowed to help the poor by living in poverty himself and preaching about Jesus.
Francis lived a humble, frugal existence yet he was filled with joy. He was drawn to the natural world and was said to have an overwhelming compassion for all living things. On his travels through the Italian countryside, he sought to help others and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
In 1209, Pope Innocent III allowed Francis and his followers to establish the Franciscan Order within the Roman Catholic Church. After years of selflessly living in extreme poverty, Francis’ physical and mental health began to deteriorate. He died at age 45 and his remains are interred at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.
When a new Pope is elected, he immediately appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and is introduced to the world by his papal name. The name each Pope chooses is an indication of his values, a historical figure he most admires, or the role he envisions for himself in the Church.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the 266th Pope on March 13, 2013. He is the first Pope Francis in history. Known for his humility and compassion, He is the only Pope in recent years to surrender the wealth and power of the Vatican in order to dedicate himself to lifting others out of spiritual poverty.
The philosophies of Buddhism differ from those of theistic religions such as Christianity and Judaism. Buddhists explain that Buddhism isn’t considered a religion at all, that the Buddha was an ordinary man trying to determine if humans could transcend the “suffering” in their worldly lives and cultivate happiness.
After trying to calm his earthly temptations with both indulgence and then deprivation, he began to teach the “middle way,” a philosophy that encouraged a person to find health and happiness despite the pain that is inevitable in our human lives. Practicing Buddhism includes calming the mind using meditation while strengthening the mind/body connection through yoga.
Buddhists believe that meditation helps a person elevate their thoughts and develop self-awareness, resulting in a feeling of peace and unity with the natural world. Though one of the goals of meditation is a feeling of tranquility, some Buddhist traditions use meditation to strengthen the mind in times of conflict, focusing on conquering fear while learning the postures and techniques of a warrior.
Easter is a time of solemn observances and triumphant celebrations for the 2.5 billion Christians around the world.
- Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is on February 14th in 2018. The 40 days of Lent concludes on the Sunday before Easter
- Holy Week begins on March 25 with Palm Sunday, the day the cheering crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem by laying palm branches at his feet
- When those same crowds began to turn against him, Jesus gathered with his Apostles for the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, explaining that one of them was about to betray him. Judas then identified Jesus to the Roman authorities and he was arrested and condemned to die
- Good Friday was the day Jesus was crucified
- April 1 is Easter Sunday. Christians believe that Jesus’ soul was resurrected from death and ascended to heaven
Pay It Forward
Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross and that his soul was resurrected, symbolizing God’s forgiving nature. According to writings in the New Testament, Christians should forgive others as they are forgiven.
The tradition originates in Leviticus 23:23-25, when God commanded a day of rest on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish year. In 2018, Rosh Hashanah begins on September 9.
The day is usually spent at Temple, praying and studying the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, a person’s good deeds and bad deeds are placed in the balance as the Days of Repentance continue. Yom Kippur is on September 18. This Day of Atonement is also from Leviticus 23, as Moses and the Hebrew people gathered together to pray that they had successfully repented of the sins from the previous year. Traditionally it’s a day of solemn prayer and fasting, and it’s the most important day of the year for a person of the Jewish faith to attend synagogue.
Writings of the Jewish Faith
The source of the laws and traditions of Judaism is the Torah, which is also the Old Testament Bible of Christianity. Moses is believed to have written these works during his lifetime, from 1525-1645 BCE.