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Nourish the soul with celebrations

by Thomas W. Goodhue
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soul with celebrations
Through vibrant festivals, joyful expressions, and diverse celebrations, faith communities nourish their soul, express their freedom of worship, and share their traditions with the world.

Want fresh inspiration for your spiritual journey? See how others celebrate their sacred holidays.
Many faith communities have special occasions that are visitor-friendly. Some are joyful and playful and nourish the soul.
Theravada Buddhists welcome the New Year (called Songkran in Thailand, Sangkren in Cambodia, Thingyan in Myanmar, and Pi Mai in Laos), which comes at the time of a hot, dry season in Southeast Asia, with water fights that drench rich and poor, young and old alike. Temples in Los Angeles and Washington have particularly raucous festivals.

During Holi, people blast each other with bright vegetable dyes (some use flower petals instead). Holi is celebrated in India and throughout the Indian diaspora, not only by Hindus but also by  Sikhs and others. Indo-Caribbeans often call it Phagwah, a celebration rooted in resistance to colonialism and injustice. Whether you call it Holi or Phagwah, this is an opportunity to have fun and nourish the soul while supporting equality.

For something more restrained, you might join the Bahá’í spring festival, Nowruz, which began in ancient Persia and is celebrated there and in Central Asia by people of many faiths. Some mosques offer interfaith Iftars, the dinner that breaks the daily fast during Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan. You might also learn about Passover by visiting a Model Seder in a synagogue. The Islamic Center of Long Island hosted an interfaith Seder, led by Rabbi Michael White from Temple Sinai in Roslyn and Cantor David Katz from Temple Or Elohim in Jericho, NY, with reflections on what Passover means to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains.

In August, you can see how Japanese Buddhists observe Obon, which celebrates liberation from greed and thanksgiving for our ancestors. You can also join in the Obon dance if you wish. In November, Gentiles might attend a Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) observance on November 9 or 10 or a Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day) service in April or May at a nearby synagogue.  I attended such services in my last two parishes, which led to shared educational programs, pulpit exchanges, and youth group events. Rabbi Rievan Slavkin of blessed memory liked to quote Bogey in Casablanca: this was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Celebrations and festivals allow people to understand and appreciate their traditions better. In some faith communities, it is inappropriate for outsiders to participate in worship. For example, not all Jews believe non-Jews belong at the Passover table.

In December, you might enjoy seeing a presipioThis Italian Catholic custom extends the Nativity display (creche) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi to show what takes place throughout the rest of the town and countryside when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. 

Presipios celebrate what Christians call the mystery of the incarnation, how God became one of us amid our everyday life and work. Some churches likewise have a ‘Living Nativity’ display or a walk through “A Night in Bethlehem,” a precipice on a grand scale.

Visiting requires sensitivity, of course. In some faith communities, it is inappropriate for outsiders to participate in worship – not all Jews believe non-Jews belong at the Passover table, for example. Still, visitors can almost always watch, listen, and learn. After all, the point of these visits is to learn about one another- often leads us to understand our traditions in a new way- and celebrate our freedom of worship.  

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