This month, we are celebrating...
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
Rosh Hashanah (Sunday 25th September): A festival for the Jewish New Year. The main ceremony is the sounding of the shofar, a ram’s horn, blown to ‘wake’ people so that they can prepare to lead better lives.
Yom Kippur (Tuesday 4th October): Yom Kippur happens ten days after Rosh Hashanah, it is considered to be the day of atonement. It is a sacred day in the Jewish calendar and is spent in prayer, fasting and asking God’s forgiveness for any wrongdoings.
Rabbit in the moon festival/Zhongqiujie/Chung Ch’iu - 10th September
This Mid-Autumn festival celebrates the moon’s birthday. Traditionally, offerings of moon cakes are made by women to the goddess of the moon. Offerings are also made to the rabbit in the moon, who is pounding the elixir of life with a pestle. ‘Spirit money’ is bought along with incense and offered to the moon by women. They also make special ‘moon’ cakes containing ground lotus and sesame seeds or dates. These contain an image of the crescent moon or of the rabbit in the moon, and children holding brightly coloured lanterns are allowed to stay up late to watch the moon rise from some nearby high place.
Special services are held around this time of year to give thanks for the goodness of God’s gifts in providing a harvest of crops along with all the other fruits of society. Displays of produce are often made, usually distributed afterwards to those in need. Increasingly the emphasis is on a wider interpretation than just the harvests of the fields and seas. Both Christians and Jewish people celebrate Harvest in September.
July 7th - Hajj
Hajj is an annual religious pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) undertaken each year by 2-3 million people. All Muslims are required to make this pilgrimage once in their lifetime (although there is no prohibition on making the pilgrimage more than once).
July 18th - THE FESTIVAL OF THE POOL/EID UL GHADEER (or GHADIR)
This is a festival observed by Shi‘a Muslims, for whom it is an extremely important day. It commemorates an event shortly before the death of the Prophet.
June 4th - CHOKOR
Chökhor Düchen, the festival of ‘Turning the Wheel of Dharma’, is one of the four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays. It is a Tibetan and Nepalese festival that commemorates the first teaching (the turning of the wheel of law) given by the historical Buddha.
June 5th - SHAVUOT / THE FEAST OF WEEKS / PENTECOST
Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks or the festival of First Fruits, is a two day festival which falls seven weeks after Pesach – a period of preparation marked by the Counting of the Omer. It celebrates the supreme gift of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, and so to the people of Israel who covenanted to follow its teachings.
June 5th - Pentecost
Pentecost is often seen as the ‘birthday’ of the Church, since this is when the disciples of Jesus first proclaimed the Gospel after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is named after the Jewish festival (Shavuot) on which this event happened, which is celebrated 50 days after Passover.
June 21st - World Humanist Day
This is a Humanist holiday, celebrated annually around the world but especially in America, on the June solstice. It is seen as a day for spreading awareness of Humanism as a philosophical life stance and as a means for effecting change in the world. It is also seen as a time for Humanists to gather socially and promote the positive values of Humanism.
May 2nd - EID-UL-FITR / FEAST OF FAST BREAKING
It is a time for making gifts to the poor (Zakat-ul-Fitr, the charity of the fast, must be paid before the Eid prayer). Now is a time for new clothes, good food, and presents for children. Families get together and contact friends, especially those who live far away. The community will assemble for Eid prayer and a sermon at the mosque or at a large place which will accommodate the whole community of the town or village. The traditional greeting is ‘Eid Mubarak’ – ‘a happy and blessed Eid’.
May 16th - VESAKHA PUJA / WESAK / BUDDHA DAY / BODHI DAY
On Wesak Theravadin, Buddhists celebrate the birth, the enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya in North India, and the final passing away of Gautama Buddha.
April 2nd - Ramadan
During the month of Ramadan Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Fasting (sawm) is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam, requiring self-discipline and giving everyone some experience of deprivation. Those who are not able to fast are expected to give charity to compensate for the ‘lost’ days.
April 10th - Holy week
This is the most solemn week of the Christian year, in which Christians recall the events of the final week of the earthly life of Jesus.
April 13th - Vaisakhi
The Sikh New Year festival.
April 16th - Passover
This major Jewish festival lasts eight days and commemorates the liberation of the Children of Israel and their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The highlight is the Seder meal, held in each family’s home at the beginning of the festival, when the story of their deliverance is recounted.
April 21st - Ridvan
The most important Baha’i festival. It was in these 12 days that Baha’u’llah declared himself as the Promised One prophesied by the Bab.
Shrove Tuesday - March 1st
Commonly known as Pancake Day, this is the day before the start of Lent. Traditionally it is a day for repentance and absolution in preparation for Lent.
Mahashivratri - March 1st
Every night of the new moon is dedicated to Shiva, but this moonless night is particularly important since it is the night on which Shiva is said to perform the cosmic dance, the Tandava Nritya, the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. Many Hindus and all devotees of Shiva fast throughout the festival. All-night prayers focus on Shiva and his shrines and statues, where milk, water and honey are regularly poured on his symbol, the lingam, which is decorated with flowers and garlands. The festival is observed for one day and one night only.
Lent - March 2nd
Lent is a period of forty days (not counting Sundays) that leads up to Easter. It is a time of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial and spiritual discipline in preparation for Easter.
Hinamatsuri/ Doll's festival/ Girl's day - March 3rd
Clay dolls representing the Emperor and Empress of Japan, reminiscent of the ancient Heian court, are displayed in the home; and offerings of peach blossom, rice-wine and rice-cakes are placed before them, along with miniature multi-coloured sweetmeats. The dolls are intended to carry away any illness afflicting or threatening the daughters of the house. The day is widely celebrated by praying for daughters to grow up to be healthy and dutiful.
Holi - March 17th
A spring festival lasting one to five days. Bonfires are lit and revellers throw coloured powders and dyes over each other.
Purim/ Festival of Lots - March 17th
Purim is a carnival festival which recalls how the Jewish community of Persia was saved from being massacred through the actions of a young Jewish woman, as is retold in the Book of Esther.
Chinese New Year - February 1st
New Year’s Day is the most important event in the traditional Chinese calendar and marks the beginning of the first lunar month. The festival is colourfully celebrated with fireworks, dances (such as the famous Lion Dance) and the giving of gifts, flowers and sweets.
Saraswati Puja/ Vasant Panchami - February 4th
This festival marks the beginning of Spring, and is widely celebrated in north India. In eastern India, and notably in Bengal, Hindus worship especially Saraswati, the goddess of learning and the arts. Yellow is particularly associated with the festival and so murtis of Saraswati are dressed in yellow.
Lantern Festival - February 15th
This is the Lantern Festival which marks the first full moon of the year and the lengthening of the days. Strings of lanterns in various designs are hung out as decoration.
New year's Day - January 1st
A day widely observed throughout the UK, as is New Year’s Eve the preceding night, and especially in Scotland, where bagpipes, haggis and first footing are widespread. It is customary to make New Year’s Resolutions at this time.
Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh - January 5th
This day is celebrated as the birth anniversary of the tenth Guru, who instituted the Five Ks and established the Order of the Khalsa on Vaisakhi (Baisakhi).
Birthday of Swami Vivekananda - January 12th
Born Narendra Nath Datta in 1863 in Calcutta, he was an Indian Hindu monk who became the chief disciple of the 19th century saint Ramakrishna. Vivekananda, as he became known, was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world and helped to develop Hinduism during the latter part of the 19th century to the stage where it held the status of a major world religion.
World Religion Day - January 16th
This day promotes interfaith understanding by emphasising factors common to all faiths. It was first introduced among Baha’i communities in the 1950s, and is now celebrated by a wider spread of communities, including the Baha’i, on the third Sunday of January.
Holocaust memorial day - January 27th
This is a remembrance day for all the different categories of people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis during the second World War (1939-45). It aims to keep fresh in the mind the memory of those who suffered and died at that period, and to help ensure that no such atrocity happens again.
Bodhi Day - December 8th
Buddhists around the world celebrate Gautama’s attainment of Enlightenment in 596 BCE on this day while sitting under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, in Northern India. Many consider this to be the most sacred of holy places as it was the birth place of their tradition.
Winter Solstice - December 21st
Yule is the time of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, when the sun is reborn, an image of the return of all new life. Heathens celebrate Yule for twelve nights and days, starting the evening before the Winter Solstice (called Mother’s night) when they think of their female ancestors and spiritual protectors.
Christmas Day - December 25th
Christmas Day Celebrates the birth of Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the son of God. Gifts are given as reminders of the offerings brought to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem, and Christmas carols, plays and evergreens are associated with this time, while nativity sets are displayed in many churches and in some homes.
Omisoka - December 31st
Japanese festival which prepares for the new year by cleansing Shinto home shrines and Buddhist altars. The bells of Buddhist temples are struck 108 times to warn against the 108 evils to be overcome.
Hogmanay- December 31st
A celebration widely observed throughout the UK, and especially in Scotland, where bagpipes, haggis and first footing are widespread. Clearing one’s debts, cleaning the house, welcoming guests and strangers and a host of other traditions feature at this time.
All saint's day - November 1st
This day provides a chance to offer thanks for the work and witness of all Christian saints, recognising that not all are known or specially celebrated.
Diwali/Divali - November 4th
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. The Hindu new year’s day, is the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It is the festival of lights: deep means ‘light’ and ‘avali’ a row’, so divali is ‘a row of lights’.
Sikhs celebrate Bandhi Chhor Divas / Divali since Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, was released from Gwalior prison in Madhya Pradesh on this day in 1619 CE. Divali has a special significance for Jains, as on this day in 527 BCE Mahavira gave his last teachings and at midnight attained ultimate liberation. Today temples and shrines are decorated, often with toys and images of animals, and Jains meditate on the teaching he gave on this day.
Remembrance day - November 14th
The Sunday nearest to Armistice Day is a national holiday in the UK, devoted to remembering the dead of the two World wars and subsequent wars.
Inter faith week - Commencing November 14th
Held in the second week of November, Inter Faith Week aims to strengthen good interfaith relations, increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities, and increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious beliefs.
Birthday of Guru Nanak - November 19th
Sikhs gather at the gurdwara for hymn-singing (kirtan) and to hear kathas (homilies) and share the langar (free meal). The gurdwara may be illuminated and street processions take place too, culminating in some cases, as at Baisakhi, in the washing and redressing of the nishan, the flag and the flagpole erected outside each gurdwara.
Advent Sunday - November 28th
Advent means ‘Coming’. It heralds the start of the Christian year, and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It is often celebrated by lighting the first candle in the advent crown – a circular wreath of greenery. A further three candles are lit on subsequent Sundays, culminating with the Christmas candle on the 25th of December. Together these signify the transition from darkness to light, the light of Jesus coming into the world.
Hannukah - November 29th
Hannukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights, which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was recaptured from the Syrian Greeks by the Maccabee brothers in about 162 BCE. For the eight evenings of the festival, candles are lit from right to left in a hanukkiah, a nine-branched menorah – one candle for each evening.
St Andrew's day - November 30th
Andrew, the apostle, was brother of St Peter, and the first disciple to follow Jesus. He was crucified at Patras in Greece and has been patron saint of Scotland since the 8th century.
Navratri - October 6th
All around the world Hindu families gather at this time to participate in circle dances associated with the goddess Durga and with Lord Krishna. Navratri means nine nights, the length of the festival. Navratri in India witnesses myriad forms of devotion across the country, but everywhere the common underlying theme is of the struggle between and the victory of good over evil. It is celebrated all over India and also among the Hindu diaspora with great enthusiasm. A common greeting during this festival is Shubh Navratri (Happy Navratri). Before the festival, skilled artisans prepare clay models of the goddess in her various forms. At the end of the festival these are transported to rivers or the sea where they are immersed.
The Prophet Muhammad's birthday - 19th October/24th October
Observed by Sunni Muslims on 12th Rabi’ Al-Awwal (October 19th), and by the majority of Shi‘a Muslims five days later on 17th Rabi’ Al-Awwal (October 24th). The day is widely celebrated within the Muslim world as in the UK to mark the birth of the Prophet, and is a public holiday in a number of Muslim countries. In the sub-continent of India and certain Arab countries like Egypt, the celebration starts with readings from the Qur’an, followed by discussion of the birth, life and message of the Prophet, and poetry and songs in his praise. There are also lectures and storytelling. The most important part of Eid Milad-un-Nabi is focusing upon the character of the Prophet, his bravery and wisdom, his teachings, sufferings, and how he forgave even his most bitter enemies.
Conferring of Guruship on the Guru Granth Sahib by Gury Gobind Singh - October 20th
On October 6th, 1708, the day before his death, Guru Gobind Singh (the Sikhs’ tenth Guru, 1666 -1708) declared that, instead of having another human Guru, from now on Sikhs would regard the scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, as their Guru.
Samhain/Samhuinn - October 31st
For all pagan communities the wheel of the year is seen to begin at Samhain. This is the Celtic New Year, when the veil between the world of the dead and the world of the living is said to be at its thinnest. Samhain is the festival of death when pagans remember and honour those who have gone before. Fires are lit and ‘dead wood’ is burned before stepping into the darkness of winter. Pagans celebrate death as part of life. This is not a time of fear, but a time to understand more deeply that life and death are part of a sacred whole.