The Festival of the Virgin of Guadeloupe

The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of Mexico. The story says that she appeared three times in December 1531 to a poor man by the name of Juan Diego. Each time, she told him to tell the bishop to build a church on that spot.

After the first two appearances the bishop didn’t believe the story, but after the third time a rose bush grew on the spot where she had appeared, and her image could be seen on Juan Diego’s cloak. After that, the bishop believed him and the church, the Basilica de Guadeloupe, was built.

The festival of the Virgin of Guadeloupe begins the Christmas celebrations in Mexico. It   lasts for nine Days, from 3rd to 12th December and pilgrimages are made to the church during this time. On the 11th December there are fireworks and light displays and people dance until the following morning which is her feast day.

What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is the most important date in the Jewish calendar, and even Jews who don’t celebrate other Jewish holidays will mark this one. It is the holiest day in the year in Judaism, and falls on the 10th day of the month of Tishri.

Yom Kippur translates as Day of Atonement and it is a day for represented for repenting sins. Atonement on this day is between Man and God only. Sins against other people have to be dealt with separately, and so the day before Yom Kippur is often spend asking for and giving forgiveness, and being charitable.

Jews have to fast on this day, beginning at sunset on the day before, and ending at sunset on the day itself. A festive meal is held before sunset on the previous day so that everybody eats well before the fast begins. Children under the age of 9 are not allowed to fast, and nor are women who have just given birth. In addition to this, it is not permitted to work; to wash or to wear perfumes, lotions or deodorant; or to wear leather.

The day is spent in prayer at the synagogue, and there is a communal confession of sin. The Ark, where the Torah is kept, remains open throughout the service, so people have to stand for the whole service. White is worn to symbolise purity.

Related posts: Sukkot     Hannukah

Islamic New Year

Islamic New Year is on the first day of the month of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. Muharram is one of four holy months in Islam. During this month all fighting is prohibited, but the celebrations are more cultural than religious. It commemorates Muhammad (pbuh) leaving Mecca and crossing the desert to Medina where he was more free to worship.

Like New Year in other cultures, it is a day for reflecting on the past and resolving to be better in the coming year.

Related posts: Layat al-Qadr   Ramadan

Laylat al-Qadr

Laylat al-Qadr, also known as the Night of Destiny or Night of Power, marks the day when the Qu’ran was first revealed to Muhammad (pbuh).

The Qu’ran doesn’t mention the exact day that this happened, just that it was during the last 10 days of Ramadan, but it is usually taken to be the 27th day of Ramadan.

It is considered to be the holiest night of the whole year and the night is often spent praying and reading the Qu’ran. It is believed that if you ask forgiveness on this night, all past sins will be forgiven.

Related posts: Eid al-Fitr    Eid al-Adha     Islamic New Year

What is Vaisakhi?

Vaisakhi, also spelt Baisakhi, celebrates the founding of the Sikh community. It is celebrated on April 14th each year.

On 14th April 1699 group Gobind Singh summoned Sikhs from all around the world. When they were gathered together, he asked who amongst them would be prepared to give his life for his faith.

One man stepped forward and Guru Gobind Singh took him into a tent and then reappeared shortly after with a blood covered sword. The Guru repeated the question and another man stepped forward. Again he was taken into a tent and again the Guru reappeared with a blood covered sword. Three more times the question was asked and three more times a volunteer stepped forward to be taken into the tent.

After the fifth time, all five of the men stepped out of the tent. Guru Gobind Singh called them the five beloved ones and they became the first Sikh community, known as the Khalsa. He presented each of them with the 5Ks as symbols of their purity and courage, and he announced that from then on all men would be given the name Singh (meaning lion) to represent courage, and all women would be given the name Kaur (meaning princess) to represent dignity.