There are several religious holy days and festivals throughout March, April, and May of this year. At Eastern Mennonite University, we received an email from our Office of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) about some of these holidays and how we might support students of these faith traditions.
The email brought to mind an article I read last year in the Washington Post about Fairfax Schools in Northern Virginia; I live in the Shenandoah Valley, about two hours southwest of Washington, DC. Fairfax Schools were considering the addition of four holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, and Eid al-Fitr – to the school calendar. Ultimately this initiative passed in early 2022, and these four holidays will be part of the calendar next school year. I remember being intrigued with this idea of adding these holidays to represent multiple faith traditions. I know I don’t always recognize the privilege I have that many of the holy days I celebrate as a Christian also are days off as well. So especially this year, during these months, I hope I am mindful of some of these other celebrations.
There are several Jewish holidays during these months. First, Purim was celebrated this year on March 16-17. This holiday celebrates a story from the Book of Esther of the Jewish people’s rescue from a plot to kill them when they were under the rule of the King of Persia. As with many celebrations, there is food, and the story of Esther is reenacted. Jews also celebrate one of their most holy festivals this time of year, Passover, which this year is April 15-23. This eight-day celebration commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Ancient Egypt. Passover gets its name as this is the time God “passed over” the houses of the people of Israel during the 10th plague, as recorded in the Book of Exodus. The Seder meal consumed during Passover includes unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
On March 18 this year, Hindus celebrated Holi. Holi is a festival celebrating the start of spring. It is also called the Festival of Colors because celebrations often involve throwing colored powder or colored water on others. It is a joyful time with family and friends, and people are encouraged to be playful.
Naw Rúz is the Bahá’í New Year festival. The “the new day” is celebrated on the Spring equinox, although for those outside of Iran, it is always celebrated on March 21. As with many holy days and festivals, this is a day filled with prayer and music and is a joyous time.
Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan this year between April 2 and May 2. Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. During this time, Muslims spend time praying, connecting with their community, and performing acts of charity. It is beginning in this month that Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed received a series of revelations from God which combined to form the Quran.
Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi on April 13. It was a harvest festival before 1699 and became the day to celebrate when Sikhism was born as a collective faith. On this day, Sikhs will visit places of worship, read scripture, and chant hymns. This is also a day many will choose to be baptized into the Khalsa brotherhood.
For Christians, March and April are the seasons of Lent and Easter, marked by Ash Wednesday on one end and Easter Sunday on the other. This is the time when Christians commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection. This year, Christians in the “west” observed Lent starting March 2, and Easter Sunday will be April 17. Lent began on March 7 for Christians in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and they will celebrate Easter on April 24. Occasionally these two traditions celebrate simultaneously, but it is not very common.
Learn more about Vesak Day from a previous DEI Blog.Read
The birth, enlightenment, death, and passing into parinirvana of Siddhartha Gautama are celebrated on Vesak Day (Buddha Day), which is May 15 this year. Buddhists practice meditation, focus on community, and renew commitments on this day.
I am wishing you all a blessed season of celebration.
This article is part of the Atla Committee for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion’s semi-regular articles designed to provide theological and religious studies librarians with resources and advice for providing equitable access and research to the full spectrum of human diversity.
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