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Lent: Preparing the soul for Easter

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Ash Wednesday photo by Jennifer Balaska. Public domain, via Wikimedia.

Boisterous Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday celebrations give way today to Ash Wednesday, the start of six weeks of Lent. The season is a period of solemnity before Good Friday, the traditional observance of Jesus’ death, which will fall on March 25 this year.

Ash Wednesday takes its name from ashes daubed on the faithful as a sign of penitence, with the traditional words, “Remember you are dust and will return to dust.”

Lent is a somber season marked by prayer, introspection and repentance. For Catholics, it also includes fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays for those 14 years and older.

— JAMES D. DAVIS

Written by Jim Davis

February 10, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: Christmas recalls birth of Jesus

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Believers worldwide celebrate today as Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they worship as the Son of God. The founding events are set in Israel of 20 centuries ago.

creche000As told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, a Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Rebuffed from every inn in the crowded village, they settled in a stable, where Jesus was born.

In nearby fields, angels announced the birth to shepherds, who rushed to the stable to worship the child. And from the East, magi or wise men followed a special star to Jesus’ home and offered gifts of gold, incense and rare spice.

Roman Catholic churches began Christmas with Midnight Mass; Eastern Orthodox churches hold Divine Liturgy. Protestant Churches often celebrate with carols and special cantatas.

Church youths like to stage “Living Nativity” scenes, recreating the first Christmas — a custom said to have been founded by St. Francis of Assisi. A few churches unpack high-tech gear or rent civic auditoriums for elaborately staged pageants.

Christmas traditionally was from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in the carol of the same name. That tradition still thrives among Latin Americans, who will celebrate Jan. 6 as Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

— James Davis

 

 

Written by Jim Davis

December 25, 2015 at 5:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: Hanukkah, Jewish festival of freedom

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Hanukkah Menorah in the Anatewka restaurant in Lodz, Poland.

Tonight today starts Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Feast of Lights. Hanukkah, whose name is Hebrew for ‘‘Dedication,” recalls the Jews’ recapture of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem from a pagan tyrant.

The founding events took place 165 years before the traditional date of Jesus’ birth, when Israel was ruled by a Greco-Syrian king named Antiochus Epiphanes. The king banned Judaism and had a pig — a ritually unclean animal — sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple.

The Israelites finally revolted for freedom of religion, led by the five Maccabee brothers. They miraculously defeated the Greek army and set out to rededicate the Temple, but found only one day’s supply of oil for the Great Menorah or candelabrum. In the story’s second miracle, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to purify a new supply.

Jewish families commemorate the victory by lighting a small, eight-branched menorah at home, while singing seasonal songs such as Maoz Tzur, or “Rock of Ages.” One more candle is lighted each night, until by the last night, the whole candelabrum is ablaze.

Hanukkah also features festive foods: latkes, or potato pancakes for East European Jews; sufganiot, or doughnuts filled with jelly or chocolate for Mideastern Jews. Both are deep-fried in oil, recalling the miracle of the Temple lamp.

A more subtle holiday custom is the dreidel, a four-sided top that children play with. The sides of the dreidel have Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin. The letters form an acrostic for a sentence: Nes gadol hayah sham, or “A great miracle happened there.”

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 6, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Advent season starts, anticipating the birth of Jesus

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Advent wreath, photographed by Jonathunder via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas. Advent, which is marked by the four Sundays before that day, is celebrated mainly in traditional churches, especially Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic.

The season’s central symbol, the Advent wreath, is a leafy horizontal circle with four candles, a new one lighted each Sunday. Each church lights a large wreath, and many homes of the faithful often have smaller versions. Although the custom originated in western Europe, some Hispanic Catholic parishes have adopted the wreath as well.

Another Advent custom is the Jesse Tree, often decorated by children in church schools. The tree is draped with homemade representations of biblical prophecies — scrolls, the Lion of Judah, seraphim, David’s harp and other symbols — believed by Christians to have foretold Jesus’ life.

— JAMES D. DAVIS

Written by Jim Davis

November 29, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: The day after Halloween is for saints

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Photo: FreeImages.com/ Patricia Yliniemi

Photo: FreeImages.com/ Patricia Yliniemi

How did Halloween get its name? From All Saints Day, which falls on Nov. 1. The original name was All Hallows Day, which means pretty much the same. (Despite what you may have heard from Harry Potter, hallows are holy persons.) All Saints Day is shortened from the official name, the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows or Hallowmas.

The root of the observance came from martyrdom, especially in the first five centuries of the Christian era. Churches began honoring members who were killed for their faith, saying Eucharist at their graves on the anniversaries of their deaths; but the task became harder as more died. So by the fourth century, they established one day to honor them all.

The holiday took its present form in the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 as the day to remember the apostles, saints and martyrs. The day was picked to supplant Samhain, a Celtic festival for the end of summer, when the dead returned to visit. Many pagans adapted by simply moving their observance to the previous night. Hence the name All Hallows Evening, or Halloween.

All Saints Day is observed not only in Roman Catholic circles but also Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Wesleyan churches. Whether they see deceased members as especially holy or not, believers emphasize a spiritual bond between Christians in this world and the next.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

November 1, 2015 at 5:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: The day after Halloween is for saints

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Photo: FreeImages.com/ Patricia Yliniemi

Photo: FreeImages.com/ Patricia Yliniemi

How did Halloween get its name? From All Saints Day, which falls on today (Nov. 1). The original name was All Hallows Day, which means pretty much the same. (Despite what you may have heard from Harry Potter, hallows are holy persons.) All Saints Day is shortened from the official name, the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows or Hallowmas.

The root of the observance came from martyrdom, especially in the first five centuries of the Christian era. Churches began honoring members who were killed for their faith, saying Eucharist at their graves on the anniversaries of their deaths; but the task became harder as more died. So by the fourth century, they established one day to honor them all.

The holiday took its present form in the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 as the day to remember the apostles, saints and martyrs. The day was picked to supplant Samhain, a Celtic festival for the end of summer, when the dead returned to visit. Many pagans adapted by simply moving their observance to the previous night. Hence the name All Hallows Evening, or Halloween.

All Saints Day is observed not only in Roman Catholic circles but also Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Wesleyan churches. Whether they see deceased members as especially holy or not, believers emphasize a spiritual bond between Christians in this world and the next.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

October 31, 2015 at 10:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Yom Kippur: Awesome day for Jews

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bshofar01Yom Kippur, the awesome Day of Atonement for Jews, will finish the High Holy Days starting at sundown today (Sept. 22). The holy days began at sundown Sept. 13 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

The holy days are a time to examine one’s life, repent of shortcomings and resolve to correct them. Tradition says that God holds people’s lives in the balance during these “10 Days of Repentance” before determining their fate for the coming year.

Tonight’s service features the Kol Nidre, a prayer set to sad medieval music. The prayer asks for release from “all vows” — the translation of Kol Nidre — to God that have not been kept.

All day tomorrow, the faithful will fast and attend a succession of synagogue services, including Yizkor memorial prayers for the dead. Traditional prayers include Al Het, an “acrostic” list of sins, whose initials form the Hebrew alphabet. As the worshiper recites the list, he strikes his chest to emphasize repentance.

Last service of the day is Neilah, signaling the closing of heaven’s gates and the sealing of everyone’s fate for another year.

Although non-Jews might view the High Holy Days as guilt-ridden, rabbis say the observance actually shows divine mercy. They point out that het, usually translated “sin,” is an archery term that means to miss the mark. And shuva, repentance, is almost identical to teshuva, to turn — as in returning to right living.

— James D. Davis

Photo via Guru Photos.

Written by Jim Davis

September 22, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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