Tag Archives: religions

Christmas Traditions Around The World

Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th each year but the Christmas traditions around the world can vary widely throughout other countries. In the USA the familiarity with our traditions of Christmas trees, indoor and outside lights are very common as are also advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, and Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is also a well celebrated figure for the tradition of bringing gifts to children, but is tied more to the commercial aspect of the holiday.  Christmas greetings in the form of cards is also a common practice but has declined some in recent years with the more common use of email and the cost of postage increasing.  Good wishes can also now be sent digitally very quickly and less expensive.


In Japan, Christmas is popular because it is encourage by commerce.  Gifts are sometimes exchanged, but it is not a national holiday.

Christmas in Japan
Malaysia does celebrate Christmas as national holiday, but it is not overly religious and mostly commercial in nature.  In the Philippines, which is one of two predominately Catholic countries in southeast Asia, Christmas is widely celebrated as a religious holiday. Their celebration is known for being the longest Christmas season which begins September 1 with Christmas carols.

In Lebanon, Christmas is an official holiday and is celebrated on December 25, except for the Armenian Lebanese which celebrate it as an official holiday on January 6, the Epiphany.  Santa Claus is known by the French and gifts are usually dropped off at church by Papa Noel or by a personal appearance to the home.

The Czech republic and Slovakia celebrate on Christmas eve, Dec. 24 and it is known as “Generous Day” because presents are given in the evening. Traditional holiday foods consist of fish soup, breaded roasted carp, and potato salad.  Holiday greetings are shared after sharing a piece of Christmas wafer made with honey and walnuts.

Twelve dish Christmas eve supper


In Russia as in some other Eastern Orthodox countries,  Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On January 6, Christmas Eve there are several  long services and then families return home for the traditional Holy Supper for Christmas Eve.  This consists of 12 different dishes which are to symbolize one for each of the Twelve Apostles.  Sometimes devout families return to church that night and again the next morning on Christmas Day. Christmas became a national holiday in Russia in 1992 and remains as a ten day holiday celebration at the start of every new year.




The History of Hanukkah



The history of Hanukkah dates back the year 164 B.C.E. The history can be found in books 1 and 2 Maccabee but these books are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.

The story of how Hanukkah came to be is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.  According to myjewishlearning.com, “These books tell the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E, Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice. The Maccabees–led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah–waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the temple.”

Star of David
Star of David

It was decided since they were not able to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at its proper time in the early Fall that would instead would celebrate it on the date the Temple was rededicated which was on the 25th of the month of Kislev in the year 164 B.C.E.

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.”

The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus  wrote his historical summary of the holiday some 250 years later but referred to it as the “Festival of Lights” and not as Hanukkah.  This refers to the lighting of the menorah that holds nine candles.  A candle is lit each night  placing it at the far right.  The Shammus candle is lit and three blessings are recited:  l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year.


One of the other Jewish customs enjoyed for Hanukkah is a special dish called latkes which is like a potato pancake made of shredded potatoes, onions, and matza flour. Playing with a dreidel is also a poplar custom. The dreidel (a square top) is spun and small chocolate coins.pennies, match sticks or M&M’s are given as prizes.


Hanukkah is probably the most well know of the Jewish holidays but is of the least religious significance as compared to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu’ot.





Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year


As September begins it brings to remind that the Fall seasonal holidays are not far behind. Presently Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year for 2013 is being celebrated from sundown Sept. 4 to nightfall on Sept.6.  The literal meaning of Rosh Hashanah is “head of the year” and is considered one of four new years in the Jewish new year. It marks the completion of the creation of the world and is considered the new year of people, animals and legal contracts in the Jewish oral tradition.

According to the Huffington Post, “Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, or Yamim Noraim (the “Days of Awe“), and is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement.” The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the “day of judgment,” and it is believed that God opens the Book of Life on this day and begins to decide who shall live and who shall die. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are viewed as an opportunity for Jews to repent (teshuvah, in Hebrew) and ensure a good fate.”

Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday celebrated for two days and also is the only major holiday celebrated on a new moon.  Traditional ways of celebrating the holiday include gathering in synagogues for extended services that follow the liturgy of a special prayerbook, called a mahzor, that is used during the Days of Awe. A shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown at specific times during the service. The Mitsvah or commandment is  a literal and spiritual wake up call to hear the shofar. Traditional foods include apples and honey, raisin challah, honey cake and pomegranate and a favorite greeting is shana tovah u’metukah, Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year.”









Religion in Africa


Religion in Africa

What are the major religions in Africa? Christianity and Islam are the two major religions. The percentage of the people who do not practice in Christianity or Islam practice traditional or folk-lore religions.

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam is the  largest religion in Africa. The population is 47% Muslim. This accounts for 1/4 of the world’s Muslim population. Islam’s history in Africa stems from Prophet Muhammad, whose early disciples migrated to Abyssinia in fear of persecution from the pagan Arabs.

Abuja National Mosque in Nigeria, Africa
Abuja National Mosque in Nigeria, Africa

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is the largest religion, and is also the other predominate religion on the continent. According to Wikipedia,

“Christianity existed in Ethiopia before the rule of King Ezana the Great of the Kingdom of Axum, but the religion took a strong foot hold when it was declared a state religion in 330 AD, becoming one of the first Christian nations. The earliest and best known reference to the introduction of Christianity to Africa is mentioned in the Christian Bible‘s Acts of the Apostles, and pertains to the evangelist Phillip’s conversion of an Ethiopian traveler in the 1st Century AD. Although the Bible refers to them as Ethiopians, scholars have argued that Ethiopia was a common term encompassing the area South-Southeast of Egypt.”

The Hanging Church and Christianity in Africa
The Hanging Church and Christianity in Africa

Traditional religions in Africa are difficult to summarize because the diversity of African cultures, but they do have some characteristics in common. According to Wikipedia, “Generally, they are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme being, belief in spirits and other divinities, veneration of ancestors, use of magic, and traditional medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonizing nature with the supernatural.”

Approximately 10% of the population practice traditional religions that have been passed down through the generations orally and can be found through art, rituals and festivals, beliefs and customs, names of people and places, songs and dances, proverbs, and myths.

Folk religion exists outside the official doctrine and practices and consists of ethnic or religious regional customs. It has been defined as “the totality of all those views and practices of religion that exist among the people apart from and alongside the strictly theological and liturgical forms of the official religion.”


Folk religions in Africa - Voodo Altar
Folk religions in Africa – Voodo Altar








The History of Passover and Seder

Passover, the Jewish holiday


An important Hebrew religious holiday occurs in the Spring. The Passover Seder is a traditional Jewish ritual feast that marks their holiday of Passover. It is celebrated on the 14th day of Hebrew calendar for Jews living in Israel and on the 15th for those living out of the country.  This corresponds to late March or April in the Gregorian calendar.

Although many of the Jewish holidays are celebrated in the synagogue, The Seder is celebrated in a community or with multiple generations in a home and is based on the Biblical verse commanding the Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Traditionally families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah. The Haggadah tells the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt and special blessings and rituals.  There are also special Passover songs and commentaries from the Talmud.

Happy Passover

Jews throughout the world celebrate the  custom of having four glasses of wine, eating matzo, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder plate and reveling in a  celebration of freedom.

There is an obligation to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. The Four cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God in Exodus 6:6-7 :  “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem.” and “I will take.”

Passover Seder table

According to Wikki, “the Passover Seder Plate is a special plate containing six symbolic foods used during the Passover Seder. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The seventh symbolic item used during the meal—a stack of three matzot—is placed on its own plate on the Seder table.

The six items on the Seder Plate are:

  • Maror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root. Chazeret is typically romaine lettuce, whose roots are bitter-tasting. Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.
  • Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.
  • Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom), vinegar (Sephardi custom), or charoset (older custom, still common amongst Yemenite Jews) at the beginning of the Seder.
  • Zeroa: A roasted lamb or goat bone, symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
  • Beitzah: A hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.”

Children are asked question during the ritual to involve them in learning the tradition and custom of the Seder.  Their involvement in their family tradition encourages that it will be enjoyed and cherished for years to come in the future. Passover Seder is certainly a wonderful holiday with a rich history.

My wishes for this blog is to educate others to the traditions and customs of religions and ethnic groups around the world.  Please feel free to comment if you have a suggestion to  other information that should be added on this topic.





The History of Good Friday


Daffodils & Tulips

What is the history behind Good Friday?  It is known the day Jesus was crucified and is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday.  It may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover. It is also referred to as Holy FridayGreat FridayBlack Friday, or Easter Friday. according to Wikki, “Based on the details of the Canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (John 19:42).”  Christians spend this day in fasting, prayer, repentance, and meditation on the agony and suffering of Christ on the cross. It is known as the day when after suffering for many hours, he released his spirit.

Although the day is not a federal holiday in the USA, some states, countries and municipalities may observe the holiday including ConnecticutDelawareFloridaHawaiiIndianaKentuckyLouisianaNew JerseyNorth Carolina,North DakotaTennessee and Texas. Public schools and universities are usually closed as part of spring break.  Banks regulated by the federal government are not closed nor are retail stores. The financial and stock markets are closed. Many countries with a strong Christian tradition such as Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, the countries of the Caribbean, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, SingaporeSpainSweden, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela, the day is observed as a public or federal holiday. Good Friday is widely accepted as part of the Easter tradition by Christians throughout the world.




Religions – Hindu – BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple


In a suburb of Atlanta, Ga. not far from where I live there is a beautiful structure that transports your mind to India with a first glance.  The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple sets back on the large property which also includes a restaurant, activity buildings, and gift shops.  A large pond with a waterfall sets the landscape in front of the temple reminding me of the scenery I have seen in photographs of the Taj Mahal, considered one of the seven wonders of the world. What is a mandir?  Described as a haven for spirituality and a place of paramount peace, a mandir is also a Hindu place of worship. The architecture of the building is lavishly detailed carvings in Italian marble, Turkish limestone, and Indian pink sandstone. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir opened in August, 2007 after 17 months of construction and 1.3 million volunteer hours.  The delicately carved individual pieces (over 34,000) of the temple were carved by hand in India, shipped to the USA and  then assembled in Lilburn, Ga.  It is the largest Hindu temple in the world outside of India. Serving approximately 500 families in its congregation, it also serves as a haven for spirituality and a place of paramount peace for adults and children.

pond at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
pond at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

According to their website,” the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a worldwide socio-spiritual organization in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, is dedicated to community service, peace and harmony. Motivated by Hindu principles, BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. Through a number of social and spiritual activities, BAPS endeavors to produce better citizens of tomorrow who have a high esteem for their roots – their rich Hindu culture. Its 3,300 international centers support these activities of character-building. Under the guidance and leadership of His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspires to build a community that is morally, ethically and spiritually pure.”


The mandir is open daily and free for visitors.  The beauty and serenity of the temple will  touch your soul and spirit and leave you in awe of this amazing architecture.