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Festivals are wonderful occasions!!! Eons ago there were always, at least, 4 main festivals in a year - Springtime, the rebirth of the earth; Mid-summer; Fall, the time of harvest and Mid-Winter, the sun starting to reclaiming the earth from the long hours of dark nights.

The time of harvest varies all over the world. When I was growing up, I had a hard time understanding why I was supposed to celebrate, harvests in Springtime, "deep mid-winter" in raging heat, etc. I also found in difficult to understand why I was not automatically included in Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and other festivals I saw going on round about me. My mother attempted to pacify me with a mix of English, Dutch and North German festivals, which I sadly found "tame" compared to the sounding of the ram's horn, an orange blossom festival and other, to my eyes, "exotic" festivals.

I realize now how lucky I was, to be among the last generation, of what was, for better or worse, called "Children of Empire". It is with great joy I see the wonderful mix of cultures around me again and I sincerely hope we all can partake, with understanding, in the many festivals that now take place in and around Palo Alto.

When we celebrate the traditional Thanksgiving festival, we think in terms of turkeys, corn, pumpkins, etc. In other parts of the world, the harvest festivals are built around the field and garden "gifts" of the neighborhoods. Two harvest festivals that catch my eye, both occur in urban England. The first takes place at St Mary-at-Hill, which is the parish church of the old Billingsgate fish market, so a minimum of 39 varieties of fish are piled high for distribution to the poor. The second occurs in Richmond, North Yorkshire, where the Mayor, is also "Clerk of the Markplace", a title predating that of Mayor. So after a full-dress civic procession to the market place, the first person to produce "a respectable sample of new season's corn" (originally barley), homegrown obviously, is presented with 2 bottles of the best local wine - I wonder what kind, elderberry(?). The recipient, opens one bottle, so that all may drink the Mayor's health and retains the other for personal use.

In our little corner of the world, the big harvest item was acorns!

All the villagers took part in the harvesting of hundreds of pounds of acorns. Once beaten off the trees, the acorns were set out to dry. Since this could take several weeks, the young men went off and hunted - squirrels, woodrats, quail, etc. The women and old men then ground up the acorns using various types of mortars and pestles. After the acorns had been ground up, the rough meal was washed and rewashed to get rid of the bitter tannins. Cold water washing took longer than hot, therefore lucky the tribes that had hot water springs!!! The meal was then dried and sifted into fine grains and larger grains. Acorns from the various types of oak tree were kept separate, since taste, texture and color was different. The fine grain was used to make flat bread. The method was very similar to that now used for tortillas. Whereas the larger grains were made into a porridge with a consistency of thick custard. Probably, an ancestor of our "Hush Puppies". The dried, ground acorn meal was made into "cakes" and kept in special granaries. It could remain useable for a couple of years, prior to being reground and cooked.


This is the Jewish Festival of Lights also called the Festival of Dedication/Rededication. Although from a religious point of view, this festival is considered only to be a "semiholiday", it is a joyous family celebration, with gifts being given to the children. This festival is usually in late November or in December.

The eight days of Hanukkah, commemorate the victory of the Maccabees (Hasmonaeans) over the Greco- Syrian King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 165 B.C. and is a triumphant vindication of the principle of freedom of religion. An increasing number of candles (one the first evening, two the second, etc.) is lit each evening to commemorate the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus to the worship of the One God. Symbolically it asserts that the light of faith will grow, even if the number of faithful is few. The Talmud dramatizes this further, with the story of blessed oil, which although only enough for one evening, through a miracle, lasts for eight nights. The lighted Hanukia (nine-branched candelabrum) has become the Jewish symbol of God's words to Zechariah, "Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. iv, 6). The normal Menorah is a seven-branched candelabrum.

Some other Jewish holidays include:

Purim (Feast of Lots), another "semiholiday", which commemorates the Jews of the Persian empire being saved from destruction by Queen Esther - usually in March.

Pesach (Passover) celebrates the Exodus from Egypt. Several special foods are served at this time, including, the exclusive use of unleaven bread. On the first evening many special ceremonies are carried out to commemorate, remind and teach Jewish history and culture. In addition, there are many myths and legends connected with the Exodus, including one, I am told, that because the donkey was the first animal to walk, without fear across the Red Sea, the Lord granted it special privileges. The Passover is usually in late March or in April.

Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is in May.

Shavuot/Shabuoth ( Festival of Weeks or Festival of the First Fruits) is celebrated in June and includes the very important ceremonies commemorating the giving of the Law (Torah) at Mount Sinai.

Rosh Hashana, (New Year) which is in September or in early October, starts the 10 days of Penitence and ends with:

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), which is traditionally, devoted to fasting, prayer and repentance.

Sukkot/Sukkoth (Feast of the Tabernacles or Harvest Festival) is usually in October. On the ninth day after this festival, the annual cycle of the reading of the Law is completed and then restarts.


Late in the year many Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, the day on which Prince Siddhartha Gautama, became the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.) was born in Kapilavista, on the Ganges Plain in India. He was the son of King Suddodhana and Queen Maya and was a Hindu by birth and upbringing. At 16, he married Princess Yosodhara, and lead a traditional family life, but at 29, he gave up his rich palace life and became a beggar-monk. The night of his departure is called, the "Blessed Night of the Great Renunciation".

The Prince spent many years wandering over the lands of India, studying the condition of the country and its peoples and hoping for wisdom. This was eventually granted him, when traditionally, he was said to have been seated under the sacred pipal tree or Bodhi/Bo tree. Sitting under the Bo tree, Buddha taught his monks that they should follow the Middle-Way, under which people attempt to live according to the following 8 Rules of Life:

  1. Let the Truth guide you
  2. Never harm any living creature
  3. Never lie, nor slander and do not use coarse language
  4. Never kill, nor steal and never do anything you will regret or be ashamed of
  5. Do not become a forger, handler of stolen good or a usurer
  6. Strive to do good and abhor evil
  7. Alway seek calm, never giving way needlessly to sorrow or joy
  8. Finally, seek perfect peace

From the Middle-way of life, came the 5 Commandments of Righteousness or Uprightness, which are:

  1. Do not Kill
  2. Do not Steal
  3. Do not Lie
  4. Do not commit Adultery
  5. Do not become Intoxicated

The earliest Sacred Books of Buddhism are the Tripitaka (The 3 Baskets of Wisdom). The Buddhists are divided into the followers of: Hanayana and those of Mahayana, roughly the Orthodox and Reformed branches of other religions. In Tibet, Buddhism evolved into Lamaism, whereas, in China and Japan it combined with Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism.

The most famous living Buddhist is the Dalai Lama. The best know form of Buddhism, in the Bay Area, is Zen Buddhism.

Many of the Buddhist Festivals are combined with those originating in the country celebrating the festival, but all do celebrate, at the least, the festival commemorating Buddha's Life. This is the Wesak festival, which is usually celebrated on the full moon of the Hindu month of Vishakha. The festival lasts for 3 days and includes distribution of food and alms. The Wesak festival is usually in the late Spring.


In December, in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs, whereas in the southern hemisphere it is the summer solstice.

The ancient Egyptians brought green date palms into their houses, signifying the triumph of light (the sun) over darkness and hence, life over death. Horus, the god of the rising sun (day-god or the sun's path), the son of Osiris and his sister-wife Isis, had his birthday festival at this solstice. (Ra was the god of the noon-day sun and Osiris the god of the setting sun). Horus is usually depicted with a sparrow-hawk head.

The Romans trimmed their trees with toys and trinkets, at this time and called their feast, "Saturnalia". Originally it was celebrated on 17-19 December, but later extended to a full 7 days (17-23 December). No business was transacted, law courts and schools were closed, no war was commenced and no malefactor was punished. Eventually this festival became a time of licensed disorder and misrule.

Originally, the Druids and the Norse peoples honored Odin (Woden) at this time, because his one eye, was considered to be represented by the sun. (He had given up his other eye in order to become "all knowing"). One of the main methods of honoring Odin, was to tie gilded apples and other choice offerings on to local "sacred" trees. Later, a festival to honor Freya, son of Odin and called Jul was held about now. Even later, it seemed as if more of the Norse gods wanted to become involved and Thor and his goat joined the festivities. The goat remains as the "Julebukk", a figure of fun and devilment to increase the boisterous revelry of the solstice and festivals round about it.

The Yule Log was a key symbol of the solstice for the Norse, Celts and Teutons. "Yule" is supposed to have started from "rol", a wheel that indicates the changing of the seasons. The Druids selected their Yule log from either a fruit-bearing tree, such as an apple tree or an oak, which was their main "sacred" tree. Generally a piece of the old log was kept to start the fire the next year. In Serbia, Slovenia,Croatia and Bulgaria there were many variations of the following custom, in which the man of the house or a special guest, approach the blazing log in the fireplace and kept striking it (for the sparks to fly up the chimney) and with each blow uttering a wish for good health and increase in the stock, to the land and for a bountiful harvest. Then later the ashes were carefully gathered up and a coin hidden in them and buried around the farm to assure a good harvest. In some areas corn, wheat and wine were sprinkled on the log for good luck. The log was kept burning all night so as the keep the good luck with the family.

The Serbs and Croats sometimes planted wheat on a plate early in December, so as to have a miniature wheat field at this time. Whereas in the Scandinavian countries a sheaf of grain was attached to a pole and placed in the snow-covered yard to feed the birds and hence bring good luck.

The word "Wassail" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "waes hael", meaning "Be in Health" or "Here's Health to You". The Wassail Bowl originally, consisted of: mulled ale, or cider or wine or even mead. (Note, the mulling steams off the alcohol). In the colder Northlands, eggs, cream and strong alcohol were used instead of wine, cider, ale, beer, etc. to thaw out the guests and/or give them "warmth" before their departure. In many areas the Wassail Bowl has become linked with New Year celebrations, but this was not originally so, because the New Year began in March and Wassail is for the solstice or mid-winter festival times. I wish the Wassail Bowl would be used more, since it is easy to prepare (from scratch) and can be made to be a "light" or a "heavy" alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink by just varying the ingredients and also the spices make the home smell wonderful!!!


This is an interesting festival to consider, since it probably did not take place in December, but either in the fall or the spring and we are not certain of the year, probably some time between 4BC to 6AD. In addition, until recently, the gift giving day, varied by country, for example, St. Nicholas Eve (5 December) in Holland, St. Lucia's Day (Festival of Lights, 13 December) in Scandinavia, right up to Epiphany (Feast of the Magi, 6 January) in Spain and many other countries. In general, the Christmas season could run from the beginning of Advent (which usually is the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day, patron Saint of Scotland, 30 November) up to St. Knut's Day in Scandinavia (13 January). That is for the so-called, Western Christian Churches. For the Eastern, Armenian and Coptic Christian Churches, the Feastival of Christmas and also Epiphany, is celebrated 12 days later than in the Western Churches. Also 25 December is not a Public Holiday in many countries, in our troubled world. So in the end, how we and our families celebrate or not, the so-called "Festive Season", should, one hopes, be able to be a matter of personal choice.

I have for the most part, always wanted to know the "why" behind traditions, be they, foods eaten, say, on Christmas Eve or how songs (carols) and customs changed from not-religious to religious and back again, and always "what was the straight historical scope". I soon found history included much myth, legend, stories that sounded good, and who was telling the story (politics).

When I was growing up, our Christmas Season started (in honor of my Dutch grandfather) on St. Nicholas Day and the tree got taken down on the Festival of the Magi (the Wisemen). St. Nicholas Day meant the start of baking season - all the multitudes of spiced cookies of Holland and North Germany (my grandmother) and the fruit pies and cakes of England, my father's people. The smells!!!!! I was told the legends of St. Nicholas, including the "fact" that he was for several years a political/religious prisoner working in the Roman salt mines of North Africa.

My Christmas Day celebrations have been very varied and I would like to just give a few vignettes. The first, I remember, was in 1941, at a "wood-and-iron" church on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. If services finished later than 9am, you would have had toasted/roasted congregation!!! - it was so hot. After the service, "Father Christmas" arrived on one of the police camels. The police chief, spoilt any intended illusion I might have had about that "Jolly Old Gent", when at the end of the ceremony, he strolled over to my father and they discussed, the lack of news on my brother, an airforce pilot, who had been shot down in North Africa the previous week. A reminder of wars!!!

Christmas 1944 was at a tiny farm church, at the base of the Drakensberg Mountains in Natal (Terra Natalis), named by the Portuguese Explorer, Vasco da Gama, who sailed just off the coast on Christmas Day 1497. What was memorable about that church service, was that the live Nativity Scene *within* the church, included two lambs, a calf and a restless donkey!!! "Joseph" had his hands full and the sermon was *short*!!! We kids were more than interested to see if tails were going to be lifted. (No Wisemen that time, only 2 shepherds!).

The next memorable Christmas for me was in the late 1940s, when My Lord Bishop, at the end of morning service, in *full regalia* did not stop at the door of his cathedral, but took off down the High Street, cope flying, to visit the City's beloved lady doctor (qualified in 1912). He regally beat on her door and then announced, to the rapidly gathering audience, that he had come to bless her and all her good works, which he then did, with much ceremony.

In 1962, I had the rare treat to attend the Festival of the Nine Lessons at King's College, Cambridge. As we waited in the quadrangle, it seemed as if it became the cross-roads of the world, friends from all over appeared and the hours slipped by until we went in to the service. The lights get turned off and the single boy tenor's voice starts, as the candlelight procession of the choir begins. I was sitting opposite a large painting, which a couple of years later was slashed to ribbons. Two days later, after sitting for 18 hours at the old Gatwick (only one runway) in snow, the airlines took us to a hotel and a Boar's Head dinner. This traditional English dish is to commemorate the legend of the student of Queen's College, Oxford, who attacked by a wild boar on Christmas Day, choked the animal with a copy of Aristotle and then cut off its head to retrieve the book. Somehow I think his pals enjoyed the meat more than the tall tale!

In 1992, while in Calcutta, I had the pleasure of going out on my balcony and listening to a large choir performing Christmas carols in the consulate garden next door, for a huge official party. The carols were sung in English and Latin (both with a lovely Bengali lilt) and a couple in Bengali. Yes, we all belong to a world filled with many religions, ideas and customs and concepts.

NEW YEAR - which began, we are often told, 1 January.

We forget that the New Year did not always start, even in Europe, on 1 January. For many years and in many countries the New Year began on 25 March. In England and her colonies, including those in North America, the year 1751, began on 25 March and ended on 31 December. But there was an even bigger out-cry in September 1752 when Wednesday 2 September was followed by Thursday 14 September, this was the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.

Thus, originally January was the 11th month of the year, not the first, so the explanation of the two faces of Janus, as one looking back to the last year and the other forward to the new year can not be totally true. The Roman god, Janus, was the god of beginnings and doorways. His temple was open in times of war and closed in times of peace.

Time has been traditionally measure as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and this is now, also, to become the standard time for e-commerce. Greenwich is a town on the south bank of the river Thames, South-East of London. The two names Greenwich and London are said to be derived from Celtic words meaning City of the Sun and City of the Moon, respectively. However, there is dispute over the latter derivation.

Time measurement and the various calendars and their years are a study on their own, but some of the ones currently in use, are of interest:

The Chinese year of the Monkey 4702 begins in our year 2004.

The Hindu lunar year 2057 of the Vikrami era begins in our year 2003, whereas

The Islamic year beginning in 2004 is 1425, and

The Jewish Year 5764 begins in the Fall of 2003.

I was amused by an advert that stated the millennium came once in a generation!!! So for fun, I looked up what had supposedly occurred in the year 1000AD, in James Trager's, "The Peoples Chronology" and came up with the the following three items:

  1. Leif Ericsson discovers Vineland (Newfoundland- Nova Scotia area).
  2. The Chinese Bridge of the Ten Thousand Ages was completed at Foochow
  3. The Indian mathematician Sridhara recognized the importance of zero - the beginning of modern mathematics, computers and science.

While looking for a suitable wish for New Year, I found John Boyle O'Reilly's thoughtful piece, "What is the Key Word":

Order, said the law court;
Knowledge, said the school,
Truth, said the wise man,
Pleasure, said the fool,
Love, said the maiden,
Beauty, said the page,
Freedom, said the dreamer,
Home, said the sage,
Fame, said the soldier,
Equity, said the seer.
Spake my heart full sadly,
The answer is not here -
KINDNESS is the word!


The Month of Ramadan (meaning "scorcher") is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar year. During the month of Ramadan the devout fast from before dawn to just after dusk. It is a month of Atonement.

The founder of the Islamic faith was Mohammed ibn Abdullah (570-632AD). However, the date for the beginning of the Islamic era is 622AD, the year of Mohammed's flight by Mecca to Medina (Hegira, the Night of the Flight was 16 July 622AD). Since the Islamic year is based on a lunar calendar, their New Year varies and may be celebrated in any month of our year.

The Islamic creed has 5 articles of faith:

  1. Belief in one God, Allah, who rules the world
  2. Belief in Angels, who do Allah's bidding and an equal number of spirits and devils
  3. Belief in the Revealed Books - the Koran which consists of 114 surahs or chapters.
  4. Belief in the Major and Minor Prophets. The major prophets include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but the greatest is Mohammed.
  5. Belief in a Day of Judgment, true believers will go to Heaven

    to these five another was added later, namely:

  6. Predetermination of good and evil, meaning very broadly, what happens, happens because Allah wills it.

In addition, Islam has 5 Pillars of Faith (or duties) which are:

  1. Bear witness that there is but one God
  2. Recite daily prayers (before sunrise, just after noon, late afternoon, just after sunset and 2 hours after that)
  3. Giving of the appointed and legal alms - the "zakat"
  4. Observation of the Month of Ramadan
  5. Make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime - the Haj. (The wearing of a green turban or fez means the wearer has made this Holy pilgrimage and the title Hadji is given to that person).

Mohammed summed up his teachings as follows: "Allah is the One True God and Mohammed is his Prophet;
Give up idolatry;
Do not steal;
Do not lie;
Do not slander;
Never become intoxicated;
Follow these teachings, and you follow Islam".

Some other main Islamic festivals are:

Festival of Sacrifice
New Year
Birthday of the Prophet
Ascension of the Prophet
The Month of Ramadan


In late January of early February is the Setsubun (scattering of the beans) Festival. This is the traditional beginning of Spring, based on the old lunar calendar New Year.

My interest in Japanese festivals began as a preteenager, when I was given Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto's books, Daughter of the Samurai (Gentleman); Daughter of the Narikin (Merchant) and Daughter of the Nohfu (Farmer). Although written in the 1930s, I still enjoy dipping into them.

Many of the festivals in Japan incorporate attributes of the three teachings of Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It has been said that Shintoism gives a love of Nature, Buddhism a love of Art and Beauty and Confucianism a love of Learning.

The oldest of the three teachings is Shintoism, which is sometimes thought of, as the way of the Kami, the infinite ones. The ancient books in the Shinto temples often include, the Kojiki (Records of the Ancients), the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan) and the more "recent" Yengihiki (Hymns and Prayers).

The rules of conduct for the Samurai were based on the ten main Confucian ideals for gentlemen (called the Bushido), namely, that they should love Justice; have Courage; be Benevolent; always be Polite; be Honorable; be Loyal; have Self-Control; search for Wisdom and Love Learning.

The form of Buddhism practiced in Japan is mainly that of Zen Buddhism, which has been greatly influenced by Shintoism. The Zen Buddhists believe that one cannot learn the truth just from books. The truth is in each of us and to discover it, we must live simply and strive to do all things with dignity and beauty. We need to accept both success and adversity and seek enlightenment through intuition and solutions to life's problems through deep thought which are stated in sayings which appear often to be mystical conundrums.

In addition to National holidays, many local traditional festivals are celebrated. Below are listed some of the major Festivals.

Shogatsu (Official New Year's Day)
At midnight the bells of the temples are rung 108 times, since humans are traditionally plagued by 108 earthly desires and one always hopes for a new start at the turn of the year. This is a family festival, as well as a National one, so often the families will include visits to Budhist temples and Shinto shrines at this time. As with all festivals, special foods are served, including salted herring roe (kazunoko).

Setsuban (the bean scattering festival)
This is the beginning of Spring and a time for planting.

Hina Matsuri (Doll's Festival or Girl's Festival)
This is the lovely festival in which the girls put on their festive attire and traditionally dressed dolls are placed on tiered platforms to represent the Emperor, the Empress and the whole nation. This is also sometimes called the Peach Festival. The peach is the symbol of courage and feminine beauty.

The Vernal equinox is an official holiday in Japan.

Hana Matsuri (the Flower Festival) is the time for formal Hanami (flower viewing) and Ikebana (formal flower arrangements) and also it is often around the same time a the wonderful Cherry Blossom and Plum Blossom Festival Time - end of March to early April.

Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day)
This was until 1948 the Boy's Festival. The symbol for this festival is the Iris, meaning courage and strength (traditionally also a symbol for a sword blade). On this day, koinobori streamers are flown, which are symbols of success.

Tanabata-Zu (the Tanabata Festival or Star Festival)
The star lovers, the Weaver star and the Cowherd star can only meet once per year on the 7th night of the 7th month and the stars must be visible. So the people wish for a good meeting for the lovers and write down their own wishes and aspirations on long streamers, which they hang out on trees. This is a festival particularly for all lovers.

Urabon (the Obon Festival), ending with the Toro Nagashi (Floating Lantern Festival) is the Buddhist (and Shinto) memorial Festival for the dead. This and the Cherry Blossom festival are the japanese Festivals best known in the US.

Kiku no Sekku (the Chrysanthemum Festival)
This is another lovely flower festival, with traditional links to the Emperor and through him to the nation and hence, National Pride.

Tsukimi (Moon Viewing Day on the day of the full moon)
This is a Harvest Moon Festival. It is a time to write poems to the Moon, praise the Moon and tell all the traditional myths and legends about the folks associated with the Moon. It is also harvest time and thus a time for celebration on this account too.

The Autumnal equinox is another official holiday.

Shichigosan Festival (7-5-3 Festival for all boy's aged 5 and girls aged 3 and 7)
The children of these ages are taken to the local shrines to pray for their safety and health. However, everyone joins in and has a wonderful festive time.

The Emperor's birthday is also celebrated. The Emperor, as was his father, is a very learned man, with higher degrees in economics from Oxford University, UK.


In late January or early February is the the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year, with a 12-year cycle of zodiac symbols. As with most secular and social events, many of the customs have a folkloric or religious origin.

Until the last century, Chinese ethical and religious teachings was largely a mix of Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist beliefs imposed on local folk traditions. All these traditions have had a profound influence on the popular festivals, which are now celebrated as social selecular events.

Taoism was founded by Lao Tze (604BC- 524BC), the Old Philosopher. Their sacred book is Tao-Teh-King (The Way of Reason and Virtue) and contains only 5,000 words. One enjoyable English translation (Tao-Te- Ching) is that by Stephen Mitchell and I have been struck by how it contains the kernel of ethics of all the great religions, very simply stated.

Confucianism taught by Confucius (551BC- 479BC) originally called Ch'iu K'ung and then K'ung Fu-tze (K'ung the Philosopher) is also concerned with ethics rather than religion. His key books are the Analects and the Five K'ing (or Ching). The quintessence of Confucian teachings are: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.

The great Chinese festivals are seasonal. New Year is celebrated in late January or in early Febuary. The celebration extends over several days, (in San Francisco, this festival extends over a 2 weeks period) usually culminating in a joyeous procession. This is preceded by the expulsion of demons and many theatrical performances. Originally offerings were made to the gods of the hearth and to the gods of good fortune (good luck) to give wealth and also to ones ancestors.

The spring festival (Ch'ing-ming/Quingming - Festival of pure brightness) was observed with sweeping and cleaning of family graves and the rekindling of the hearth fires. Ceremonial meals were eaten at ancestral tombs and family reunions marked this festival.

At the beginning of June, there are the exciting and highly skilled, Dragon Boat Race Festivals up and down the coasts and rivers (5th day of the 5th month).

In earlier times, there was a Feast for All Souls in August and a winter festival in November to commemorate the dead. The Chung Yeung Festival (9th day of the 9th month) is a family remembrance day.

The midautumnal festival to the Moon god is very lively and joyous in character. This is a family festival, with the role of women predominating. Poems are written and recited to the moon, moon cakes are eaten, etc. This festival originated in an agrarian society as the Harvest Festival as well as the Moon Festival, hence becoming the Harvest Moon Festival. It was celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month.


Early in the year, the Hindus celebrated the festival of Sarsvati, the goddess of knowledge, learning and the arts!

The Hindu religion is very ancient and has undergone many changes over its history. There are many sects and also localized beliefs. Two aspects are common to all Hindus, namely, reincarnation (Samsara) and the final freeing of the soul (Nirvana).

There are 3 sets of books sacred to the Hindus. The best known to the Hindus themselves, are the Vedas (including the Rigvedas with their 1028 hymns), the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. However, the best known in the West is the Bhagavad-Gita, which is from the epic poem Mahabharata, honoring the Lord Krishna. The other famous epic poem is the Ramayana, the story of Rama.

It was widely believed that there were 4 main castes - the Brahmans (learned or priestly class), the Kshatriyas or Rajputs (warrior class), the Vaishyas (merchant and craftsmen class) and the Shudras (agricultural workers and menials) and then the Untouchables, called by Gandhi "the Harijans" (people of God).

Many of the gods of the early Rigvedas (circa 1500BC), such as Indra, Agni and Varuna, have to a large extent, been "transformed" into aspects of the better known medieval and "modern" gods. The three most widely known gods in the West, are Brahma (the ultimate creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destoyer and renewer). In addition, there is the revered goddess, "The Divine Mother", often called Durga or Shakti (but identified at times, with aspects of other goddess consorts of Shiva, such as Parvati and also Kali, the dark consort). The first ten days of the lunar month of Ashvina are sacred to the Mother Goddess. This festival is sometimes called Durga-puja and is celebrated in the Fall.

The wife of Brahma, the ultimate creator, was Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, learning and arts. She was also traditionally, the creator of the Sanskrit alphabet. Sanskrit is considered the forerunner of most Indo- European languages. Sarasvati's festival is in late winter.

The great god Vishnu, the preserver and protector, also existed in his many incarnations - first as a fish (Matsya); second as a tortoise (Kurma); third as a boar (Varaha); fourth as a man-lion (Narasimha); fifth as a dwarf (Vamana); sixth as Rama with an axe (Parasu-Rama), son of Jamadagni; seventh as Rama-Chandra, son of Dasaratha, King of Ayodhya; eighth as the Lord Krishna; ninth as Buddha and the tenth will be as Kalki. The birthday of Rama is in Spring, and that of Krishna in late Summer. Lakshmi is the spouse of Vishnu, and she is the patron of wealth and fortune.

The great god Shiva is the destroyer and renewer, and as such does not incarnate himself, but takes on many forms. His consorts include, his first wife Sati; Parvati or Parbutti; Kali and Uma. His festival is the 14th day of each lunar month, the main one being in the lunar month of Magha, the Mahashivaratri (or Shivarati - Great Shiva's Night) festival, often during early Spring. Shiva is often accompanied by his bull, Nandi. Shiva is not only widely portrayed as Natarai, the Lord of the Dance, but also as the lingam (the phallic symbol) and as symbols of energy, fertility and potency and his emblem is the emblem for fire. His son Ganesha, the elephant- headed god is petitioned for success before all new enterprises are undertaken. Ganesha's birthday is celebrated in early Fall.

There are many legends and stories about multitudes of gods, goddesses, heroes and heroines. Two of my favorites are Hanuman, god of the monkey people, associated with the divine hero Rama and Manasha, the snake goddess, who helps ensures general prosperity. The sacred trees of India, include the multirooted banyan and the pipal trees. Tulsi, a wild basil, is sacred to Vishnu.

There are many other holidays and festivals and many of them vary by region. Some important festivals are: The Spring Festival of Holi, held at the whole moon of the month of Phalguna, is associated with fertility, the destruction of evil and demons by Narasimha (the half-lion, half-man incarnation of Vishnu) and also Vishnu's incarnation as the Lord Krishna (a Spring festival) Varsha Pratipada (1st Day of Chaitra, the 1st month of the New Lunar year 2060 of the Vikrami era) - Spring 2004.

The Festival of Lights, the renewal festival (of the triumph of light over darkness) and the beginning of the New Commercial Year, also called the Festival of Deepavali or Divali or Diwali, which is a 5 day festival (again on a lunar calendar), celebrated in the Fall. Home Page