Thursday, June 14, 2018


Ramadan Mubarak the Islamic greeting during Ramadan
Ramadan is the month on the Islamic calender where Muslims fast between sunup and sundown. Ramadan doesn't fall at the same time every year due to the Islamic calendar being a lunar calendar (vs. the solar calendar secular dates are based on). Since the Lunar calendar is 11 days shorter then the solar calendar, Ramadan cycles through each of the 4 seasons.


There's more to Ramadan then just not eating or drinking anything while the sun is up. Islams are also expected to avoid unkind and impure thoughts and words, sex, smoking, and immoral behavior. Muslims see Ramadan as a time to practice self-restraint and self-reflection. Going to work, school, and tend to things they need to do is acceptable under the rules of Islam.

Only Muslims who have reached puberty and are in good health are expected to fast. Pregnant women, the elderly, and travelers are among the people exempt from fasting. They are expected to either make up for it at a later date, or help feed the poor instead of fasting. As to the reason for the fasting. It's meant to cleanse the soul and promote empathy for people who don't have enough to eat.

To keep Muslims from starving during Ramadan, the meal called "suhoor" is eaten before dawn, and "iftar" is eaten after sundown to break the fast. The foods at these two meals differs by culture.

Eid Mubarak a Islamic greeting meaning Blessed Holiday

Eid al-Fitr (or Eid ul-Fitr)

At the end of Ramadan, there is a major, three day celebration (Eid al-Fitr). Eid al-Fitr is also know as "The Festival of the Breaking of the Fast." When the Eid starts is determined by when the first sight of the new moon is seen. This means that the exact date it's celebrated can (and does) differ from country to country based on geographic location.

While the traditions during Eid differ among different cultures, prayers and a short sermon at the beginning of Eid is a culture spanning tradition. Other common traditions are, visiting friends and relatives, giving to charity, wearing either traditional clothes or a new outfit, and gifts for children.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

Image Source
Memorial Day is a US holiday to remember those that died while serving in the US military, particularly those that died in combat. Memorial Day is observed on the 3rd Monday in May, but was held on the 30 May for decades before that. Currently, it is also seen as the unofficial start of summer in the US.


What we know know as Memorial Day, was started as Decoration Day shortly after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Many US cities and towns began holding tributes to the men (and a few women I believe), who died in the war. They also decorated the graves with flowers, and the religious usually said prayers, also.

 Decoration Day

On 5 May 1868, Gen. John Logan, requested a national day remembrance on 30 May 1868. Why the 30th of May? Because it isn't the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle. The Decoration Day he sought was a day
"designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land"
 Gen. Logan got his request and the 30th of May 1868 was the first national "memorial" day. (It was still referred to as Decoration Day.) On that Decoration Day, 5,000 people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers killed during the war buried there.

After that first day of remembrance, many northern states held commemorative events similar to the 1868 event at Arlington. By 1890, each of the northern states (at that time) had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. The southern states remembered their dead in other ways until after WWI.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This act established 4 national holidays to be always observed on a Monday in order to provide a 3 day weekend for Federal Employees. Memorial Day is one of those 4 holidays, the other 3 being Washington's Birthday (aka President's Day), Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. The bill went into effect 1 Jan 1971, making 31 May 1971 the first Memorial Day to be observed as a national holiday. (It was designated as the last Monday in May at that point.)


Saturday, May 19, 2018


In Hebrew, Shavuot means "weeks" (referring to the 7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot.) Jews believe that Shavuot is when God handed down the Torah on Mount Sinai. It's also one of the harvest festivals in Judaism, specifically the festival of the harvest of wheat.

Story of Shavuot

The story of Shavuot starts with the story of Passover, you can find a brief version of the Passover story on my previous post on Passover. So, picking up from there.

Pharaoh lets the Israelites leave Egypt, and they start the 40 year journey to the Promised Land.  Weeks later, the Israelites make camp at the base a mountain in the Sinai desert known as Mount Sinai. Over the time they are camped out there, Moses goes up the mountain several times to talk to God, and God gives Moses. During Moses' trips up the mountain, God gives him the 10 Commandments, along with laws concerning the altar, slaves, violence, property, restitution, the sabbatical year, the sabbath, festivities, the Tabernacle, and more. (You can read the full story in Exodus 19:1-34:30 of a Christian Bible.)



How long you celebrate Shavuot depends on if you're in Israel or not. In Israel, it's a one day holiday, while the rest of the world extends the holiday to two days.

  • Prayers for Shavuot are said to thank God for the Torah and God's law, especially at dawn.
  • The Synagogue is decorated with flowers and plants to symbolize the flowers on Mount Sinai. Also, Jews go to the synagogue to hear the 10 Commandments be read there.
  • People typically stay up all night to study the Torah on the first night.
As for food, it's customary to eat dairy food on Shavuot. Why? To Jews, the Torah is like nourishing milk, along with a few other reasons.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Yom HaShoah

Yom Hashoah is the day the Jewish calendar has set aside as Memorial Day for the victims of the Holocaust during WWII. It occurs on the 17th of Nissan, a week after Passover ends and a week before Yom Hazikaron. The date was set in 1951 by the Israeli Parliament. The full name (Yom HaShoah Ve-Hageurah) was adopted in 1953 and translates to "Day of remembrance of  the Holocaust and the Heroism.


Back in the 1950s, education about the Holocaust primarily centered on the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Since then, there has been a shift to include how some resisted being tormented by the Nazis.
The day hasn't been embraced by all in the Jewish community. Some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis have refused to recognize the day, but they haven't formally rejected the holiday either.


In Israel, at sundown on Yom Hashoah and again at 11 am, a siren sounds throughout Israel to stop traffic and pedestrians for 2 minutes of silence. Also on the day, radio and television programs in Israel have some connection to the Holocaust and how it affected the Jewish people, including interviews with survivors.

In North America, the day is observed by Jews in both the synagogue and the Jewish community as a whole. Talks from survivors, educational programs, vigils, songs, reading, etc are all ways different Jewish communities outside of Israel choose to commemorate the day. Since 1979, there have been civil ceremonies in Washington D.C. to commemorate the day.

Communities aren't held to the rituals that have been observed in the past either. Every community is open to develop new rituals, even rituals that haven't been observed in any community before.


If I may stray and give my opinion, this is a day that I think should be commemorated worldwide by Jews and non-Jews alike. It marks a part of our history as a species that I believe we should be ashamed of (as a species) and that I believe we have to learn to understand so that we can ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. When I say understand, I mean not just understand what did happen, but what led to it happening, right down to ALL factors that made it possible in the first place, including the scapegoating of Jews that made it possible for people who would normally have been against all of it to be able to justify actions taken during the Holocaust, from making Jews wear the Star of David on their clothes, to the murder of Jews simply for being Jewish.

As a result of that, in my opinion, talks and interviews with survivors and educational programs are the best ways to commemorate the day.


The Holocaust

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Traditions

Since I already did a post about Holy Week, the post today will focus on traditions, specifically in the US and a few European countries.

United States

As somebody that has lived in the Midwest US my entire life, this is the part where I am the most knowledgeable before research.

Probably the biggest Easter tradition in the US is the "Easter Bunny" delivering a basket of treats on Easter. The baskets typically have candy in plastic eggs, chocolate rabbits, and some small toys and/or gifts. Families will even dye hard boiled eggs for Easter and you can buy kits of dye at stores like Target or Walmart.

Some small towns hide eggs in a local park for an Easter Egg hunt. It's also a common thing for families to do in their own yard, also.

At the US White House, the annual Easter Egg Roll has been an Easter tradition since 1878.


PĂ„skekrim (Easter crime) is a Norwegian Easter tradition that may surprise you. It's a tradition of reading mystery books and/or watching detective shows or movies.

It's also common for Norwegian families to escape into the mountains for a week over Easter in a ski cabin. While at the cabin, playing games like Yahtzee is a popular tradition.

In neighboring Sweden, it's traditional for children to wear old, discarded clothing to dress up as Easter witches in the days before Easter and go from home to home trading paintings and drawing for sweets. There's a similar tradition in Finland, children dress up as witches, and go around begging for chocolate.


In Florence, Scoppio del Carro (explosion of the cart), has been an Easter tradition for over 300 years. The locals pack an ornate cart with fireworks and lead the cart through the streets while wearing costumes from the 1500s. After stopping outside of the Duomo, the Archbishop of Florence lights a fuse during mass that leads outside to the cart.

In the town of Panicale , locals gather the day after Easter to roll huge wheels of Ruzzola cheese around the town's perimeter in a tradition they refer to as Ruzzolone.

In Sicily, Abballu de daivuli is a tradition where locals wear red robes along with masks to represent devils. Those dresses up in the costumes then pester as many "souls" as they can. (By pestering souls they mean make people pay for drinks.) In the afternoon, people dressed as the Virgin Mary and the risen Jesus, send the devils away with the help of people dressed as angels.

  • Mental Floss article on the origins of some Easter traditions
  • My Little Norway post from 2010 on traditions 
  • Explore Italian Culture post on traditions


  • post from 2009
  • Woman's Day post from 2018
  • Reader's Digest post

Friday, March 30, 2018


Passover (in Hebrew Pesach) in one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. It's celebrates the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The holiday has been celebrated since about 1300 BCE (BC to us older folks.) The holiday lasts for 8 days, from the 15th to 22nd of Nissan.

The Passover Story

During the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, the Hebrews were held as slaves in Egypt. After generations of slavery, the Pharaoh a Hebrew baby came to be raised in the palace, spent part of his adult life in Midian with other Hebrew's who weren't slaves, and returned to Egypt to free the enslaved Hebrews. When the Pharaoh didn't release the Hebrews on command, the Hebrew god sent a plague that affected the Egyptians, but not the Hebrews. 10 plagues in all. (1. Water turned to blood,  2. frogs, 3. lice, 4. flies, 5. death of livestock, 6. boils, 7. hail, 8. locusts, 9. darkness, and 10. death of the first born.).

Just before the 10th plague, the Hebrews were directed to slaughter a male lamb 4 days before, brush the blood on their door frame, and make a special meal with the meat of the lamb. When the angel of death came to kill the fist born child of each family in Egypt,  it "passed over" the homes with blood on the door frame, giving the holiday it's name.

After the 10th plague, the Pharaoh agreed to let his Hebrew slaves go free.

How Passover Is Celebrated

The central ritual of Passover is the Passover Seder. That is a ritual meal that is played out almost as if it's a play.  It consists of symbolic foods and a script from the Haggadah. The celebration is primarily at home, but traditional Judaism prohibits working on the first and last days of the holiday. The community part of the holiday includes special services in the synagogue with readings, psalms, and the Yizkor service of remembrance is recited on the last day.
The most important of the symbolic foods is the matzah, a type of unleavened bread. Other symbolic foods are Karpas (green vegetable, usually parsley); Haroset (sweet fruit paste), the bitter herbs Maror (usually horseradish) and Hazeret (usually Romaine), Zeroa (shank bone), and Beitzah (egg). It's also common to have salt water or vinegar on the Sedar table.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Holy Week

To Christians, Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, and runs the entire week through Easter the following Sunday. It's a week to celebrate the part of the Jesus story that begins with him entering Jerusalem for the last time, his betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and rising from the dead.  Easter (along with Christmas) are the two main religious holidays in the Christian tradition.

The date for the week is established based on the date of Easter, which is determined by a combination of the season and the status of the moon. The council of Nicea declared Easter Sunday to be the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox (aka first day of spring.) That is still how the date is determined among non-Orthodox Christian churches.

Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday)

Palm Sunday is the last Sunday before Easter, and kicks off Holy Week. The church services that day read the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem that's recorded in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12. During services, parishioners are given palm branches to wave.

The history of celebrating the day is uncertain, but there are records of the day being celebrated as early as the 4th century in Jerusalem, and the 9th century elsewhere.  

Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday)

Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter.  Out of the days of Holy Week covered here, Maundy Thursday is the one that is mostly likely to not be understood  by the average Christian.

Maundy Thursday is believed to be the day Jesus Christ celebrated his last Passover. (My post on Passover will go up later this week.)  According the the Biblical story, his last Passover is when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (an act of humility), commanded his disciples to do the same with each other, and commanded his disciples to love each other.

Good Friday

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter and the day Christians believe Jesus was hung on the cross until dead.

In church services held on Good Friday, it's traditional to not serve communion as it's a day of sorrow and communion is seen as a celebration. It's also traditional to remove ornamentation on the altar and cover both the altar and the cross in black to signify death.

It's also not uncommon for some churches to have Stations of the Cross during their service, where each station symbolizes a part of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion in the story of his death.

Easter Sunday

To Christians, Easter Sunday is believed to be the day that Jesus rose from the dead, making it a day of great joy for Christians.

In many churches, it's customary to have what is called a "sunrise service" in the early morning (ex. 6 am). For churches that have that and the Good Friday service mentioned above, this service starts off dark, then the black covering the altar and cross are removed and the ornamentations replaced. Simultaneously, the lights in the sanctuary (or nave) are brightened to symbolize Jesus rising from the dead.

There are many ways to celebrate the day. One common way Christians celebrate is to get together with their family and enjoy a meal together. Lamb is common as the meat for the meal because Christians see Jesus as the "lamb of God." However, ham is traditional in my family, and I'm sure many others.