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Autumn by religion: some of fall’s most holy days

There’s a chance that last Monday you saw the words “L’shana Tova” somewhere — whether it was Instagram’s GIF section, a Snapchat filter, or on some multicultural board around campus. Those words, in the Hebrew language, mean “to a good year,” as last Monday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. And although fall typically brings to mind some of America’s favorite non-religious holidays, like Halloween and Thanksgiving, it’s also a pretty sacred time in some other cultures. Here are a few religious holidays that you might have seen or heard about this fall.

Islamic New Year: Aug. 30 at sundown to Aug. 31 at sundown, 2019

Falling on a different day each year, the Islamic New Year is the first day of Muharram, which is the first month in the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar differs in length from the Gregorian calendar, always shorter by 11 to 12 days, which causes the Islamic New Year to fall on a different day on the Gregorian calendar each year. Second only to Ramadan, Muharram is one of the four holy months on the Islamic calendar. The new year is a time of reflection, often observed by fasting on the 10th day of the month, which is the day that the massacre at Karbala is remembered. Muslims also gather in mosques on the new year for prayer and reading from the Quran. 

Ashura – Islam: Sept. 9, 2019

Ashura is the 10th day of Muharram, marking the murder of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, in the battle of Karbala. It is observed by fasting. The day includes remembrance ceremonies, chanting and prayer.

Onam – Hindu: Sept. 1 – Sept. 13, 2019

In the Hindu tradition, Onam is a celebration of the rice harvest and includes a 10-day harvest festival. Each day of the festival has a unique significance and name. The festival also celebrates the homecoming of the great King Mahabali. It is celebrated with colors, art, food and dance. “Onam-Sadya” is the cooking of elaborate meals and is a staple tradition of Onam. 

Pchum Ben – Buddhist: Sept. 27, 2019

In the Cambodian Buddhist tradition, Pchum Ben is the day in which Hell releases the souls of the Buddhist’s ancestors and they travel to Purgatory. Pchum Ben is the beginning of this journey for the souls. The holiday falls at the end of the Buddhist’s Lent and is celebrated with visits to Pagodas, a Buddhist temple or sacred building, and by making offerings of food, money, etc., in order to rid oneself of bad karma. It is also a day to spend time with family and learn about your ancestors.

Rosh Hashanah – Jewish: Sept. 30 at sundown – Oct. 1 at sundown, 2019

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and falls on the first day of Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish calendar. It is the start of a period in the Jewish tradition called the High Holy Days, and it is observed by eating sweet foods and round challah bread (a sweet and fluffy bread that is traditionally baked in a braided shape, but is round in celebration of the new year and new beginnings), attending synagogue, blowing the shofar (a ram’s horn) and singing songs. 

Yom Kippur – Jewish: Oct. 8 at sundown – Oct. 9 at sundown, 2019

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, the holiest day of the year in Judaism and the most serious holiday. It is observed by a fast from sunrise to sundown and a “break the fast” meal at the end of the holiday. Much of the day is spent in a synagogue, beginning with services at sundown the evening the holiday begins and continuing throughout the next day. In the High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur, many give to charities or donate food or clothes to those in need.

Sukkot – Jewish: Sunday, Oct. 13 at sundown – Sunday, Oct. 20 at sundown

Sukkot, for comparative purposes, is almost like a Jewish Thanksgiving in terms of how it’s celebrated. It’s the “Festival of Booths” and always falls five days after Yom Kippur. It is named for the Sukkot, which are booths or huts that Jews build out of wood to celebrate the holiday in, and some even sleep in the Sukkah during this time – though Maine weather in October doesn’t always make this an option. Spending time in a Sukkah is a tradition, including eating meals inside the structure. The holiday represents a harvest of sorts, celebrating the bounty of the holy land.

If you’re interested in getting involved, check out the various University of Maine’s religious and cultural groups across campus, as well as the Wilson Center for Spiritual Exploration and Multifaith Dialogue, located on College Avenue.


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