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    Día de Muertos 

International Holiday of the Month

  • October and November bring us two international holidays.

    Día de Muertos and Diwali.

    Día de Muertos

    Day of the Dead: Ancestral Origin and Meaning

    The return of the deceased is one of the oldest and most representative traditions among indigenous Mexican festivities. On Día de Muertos, the world of the living welcomes happily and lovingly the souls of the underworld through millenary traditions such as the ofrenda (traditional memorial displays), the sugar skulls, the pan de muerto (sweet bread of the dead), papel picado (pecked paper), candles, or the cempoalxóchitl flower (a marigold genus).

    This festivity is one of the richest among the Mexican traditions. UNESCO inscribed Day of the Dead to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

    dayOfTheDead1The Mexica used to celebrate their dead by honoring Mictecacihuatl and Mictlantecuhtli, the underworld couple, during the ninth month of their calendar (around August in the Julian calendar) and they would celebrate for an entire month dedicated to Mictlán’s ruling duality.

    During the Mexica festivities of the departed, the main days were Miccailhuitontli—the Feast of The Lesser Dead, and the Huey Miccaihuitl, the Feast of The Greater Dead. These coincided with Europe’s Day of the Faithful Departed—then observed because of the deaths caused by epidemics—and All Saints’ Day—when they venerated all the saints without a specific holiday in the ecclesiastic calendar. At around the Day of the Dead and of the Faithful Deceased, the Irish Celtic Samhain Day—a pagan ritual that gave rise to Halloween—celebrated a banquet for the dead.

    In ancient Mexico, the dead continued having an important role in society as they were honored depending on their rank and spiritual and social achievements. When someone died, the female elders in Tenochtitlan would announce plaintively the loss of that person. They could be memorialized by their families or by their calpulli (neighborhood), or by all the Mexica. For example, those hidden by Mictlantecuhtli, or who had gone to atlan oztoc, “the place of water in the cave” were called upon with rituals for sowing, hunting, or war. It also included birth and marriage as well as other magical rituals.

    For the Mexica, skulls were important in their rituals. In the main temple, they would exhibit skulls of captives publicly impaled in the sacrificial altar to Tzompantli, to honor their deities and to show the power they had and extended beyond Tenochtitlán.

    dayOfTheDead2The precursor of the Pan de Muerto was the baking tradition in the Spanish kingdoms of León, Aragón and Castile to shape bread in the form of bones to imitate those that had allegedly belonged to saints (relics).

    Each of the thirty-two Mexican states nowadays has its own distinctive touch for this celebration. For example, On October 28, some memorialize people who died in an accident; on October 30, some honor the babies who died before their Baptism. On October 31, they pay respect to children younger than 12, and November 1st is All Saints Day, when they honor the souls of those who died of natural causes. Finally, on November 2nd, after noon, this is when the souls of the departed return to their world. It is then that the ofrendas and the altars are cleared.

    The communities prepare ahead of time and pay a lot of attention to the details because the ritual is extremely important, and as long as they do it properly, they believe that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity, for instance, an abundant corn harvest, or disgrace to their families. This encounter among the living and the dead consolidates the community’s social connections.


    “Día De Muertos: Su Origen y Significado En 10 Datos Curiosos.” NeoMexicanismos, 1 Nov. 2020, https://neomexicanismos.com/cultura-mexico/dia-de-muertos-origen-en-mexico-porque-se-celebra-significado-tradiciones/. Portions accessed and translated from original in Spanish with permission on 10/24/2021

    García, Barbara. “Mictlan: Souls' Journey through the Underworld.” Mas México USA, Pepe Perez, 30 Oct. 2019, http://mas-mexico.com.mx/usa/index.php/2019/10/31/mictlan-souls-journey-through-the-underworld/.

    Herz, May. Inside Mexico, Babbel, 27 Sept. 2021, https://www.inside-mexico.com/category/myths-and-legends/.

    “Indigenous Festivity Dedicated to the Dead.” UNESCO, https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/indigenous-festivity-dedicated-to-the-dead-00054.

    “Mexica.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Oct. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexica.

    Patowary, Kaushik. “Tzompantli: The Gruesome Skull Racks of the Aztecs.” Amusing Planet, Blogger, 25 Aug. 2021, https://www.amusingplanet.com/2021/08/tzompantli-gruesome-skull-racks-of.html.

    Vela, Enrique, “Días de Muertos”, Arqueología Mexicana, edición especial núm. 77, p. 80.


    Indian "Festival of Lights

    What: Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over dark and good over evil.

    When: Diwali is celebrated during the Hindu month of Kartik, on the darkest day of the lunar month. Celebrated in India over a 5-day period, this year, the main (third) day of Diwali is November 4.

    Where: Diwali is a national holiday in India, Singapore, and several other South Asian countries. However, it is celebrated around the world.

    How: In India, celebrants light dozens of candles and clay lamps (called diyas), placing them throughout their homes and in the streets. Candles and lamps are also floated in lakes and rivers, and fireworks are lit to brighten the night sky.

    Who: Diwali is primarily celebrated by followers of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths. Hindus celebrate the return of deities Rama and Sita to Ayodhya after their 14-year exile. They also celebrate the day Mother Goddess Durga destroyed a demon called Mahisha. For Hindus, it's also the start of the new year so there are special prayers offered to the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) for blessings and cash money in the new year Sikhs particularly celebrate the release from prison of the sixth guru Hargobind Singh in 1619. Jains celebrate the moment the founder of Jainism, Lord Mahavira, reached a state called Moksha (nirvana, or eternal bliss).

    Sources: Burnett, C. (2021). Diwali 2021: What is Diwali? The Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/content/diwali

    Diwali: What is it? (2020). BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/15451833

    Past Holidays

  • Bodhi Day


    Bodhi Day commemorates when Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha by reaching enlightenment (bodhi) while sitting under the Ficus religiosa tree (a bodhi tree). There the Buddha experienced the three stages of true enlightenment as described in the Pali Canon ( a collection of scriptures in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition) (Cohen):

    1. During the first watch – Buddha discovered his past lives in the cycle of rebirth.
    2. During the second watch – Buddha discovered the law of Karma, and the Eightfold Path (the painful cycle of rebirth).
    3. During the third watch, Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths (the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering), and reaches Nirvana, or true enlightenment (Basics of Buddhism).

    Celebrations of Bodhi Day include meditating, studying the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha), chanting sutras, and holding services to honor Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment. “Some may decorate a Bodhi tree, string up colorful lights to represent the paths to enlightenment, or celebrate with a traditional meal of rice and milk (or cookies in the shape of the Bodhi tree)” (Cohen).


    Bodhi Day’s significance connects to the story of Siddhartha Gautama 566(?) to 480(?) B.C., an Indian warrior-king’s son who lived a life of privilege (Basics of Buddhism). After leaving the comforts of his royal life and discovering life was full of suffering, he renounces his princely title to become a monk in the hope of understanding the truth of the world around him. Bodhi Day honors Siddhartha Gautama transformation into Buddha through the “discovery of a path to the resolution of why people must suffer on earth”: “Buddhism teaches that all things have Buddha nature or the potential to become a Buddha. And so Buddha is the enlightened one. It is a state of true liberation from this world of confusion and delusion.” (Takashi Miyaji, “Buddhist Prepare”).


    For Buddhist who follow the Chinese lunar calendar, the day of Buddha’s enlightenment is on the 8th day of the 12th month, which usually falls in January. For those who follow the Gregorian calendar, Bodhi Day is assigned a fixed date of December 8th, also known as Rohatsu, which means the 8th day of the 12th month (Cohen).


    Picture of the Bodhi tree that Buddhists believe the Buddha sat under during his experience of enlightenment. It is located in Bodh Gaya, India, and is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists across the world.

    Works Cited:

    Lunar New Year

    2021-Lunar-New-Year-webLunar New Year marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar that is traditional to many East Asian nations. This year, Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 12, 2021, and the event is the most important holiday to many Asian countries, including Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, and China. Ushering in the Year of the Ox, people will begin celebrations well in advance.

    Within a household, it is traditional to cleanse the home prior to the new year. This is referred to as a “spring cleaning” in Chinese Traditions, and the Lunar New Year is called the “Spring Festival.” The ritual of sweeping removes harmful spirits lurking in the corners of one’s home. Windows are washed, parts of a house might be repainted, and renovations to the home are completed.

    The day for sweeping marks the beginning of the major pre-holiday housecleaning projects, and on this day, according to tradition, the Kitchen God who has been watching over the household departs to the Jade Emperor in heaven to give his report of the household activities. If the individuals had been generous throughout the year, they will be rewarded in the next. But had they been unkind, the following year might bring hardship.

    Lunar New Year is celebrated with one’s family, and individuals travel great distances to return home. Rituals include honoring family’s ancestors, and families eat foods with great symbolic meaning. One of these is a whole fish because in Chinese, fish is called yu. This is a homophone for the word meaning “surplus” or “abundance” in Chinese. Dumplings (jiaozi) are also eaten because the Chinese word for dumpling sounds like a term meaning “the meeting of the last hour of the old year with the first hour of the new.”

    Children are given red envelopes (hongbao in Chinese) from their parents, and each envelope contains New Year’s money. Many individuals will furthermore wear clothes that are red because the color is said to bring good luck.

    Celebrations continue until the 15th day of the first lunar month, known as the “Lantern Festival.” This day signals the end of the new year festival period, and it is another occasion for inviting guests to one’s home and holding feasts.

    2021 marks the beginning of the Year of the Ox, who is an animal known for being grounded, loyal, gentle, and trustworthy.

    For more information see:

    Asia For Educators. The Lunar New Year: Rituals and Legends. http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_general_lunar.htm

    Steph Yin. “What Lunar New Year Reveals About the World’s Calendars.” New York Times. Feb. 5, 2019.

    What is International Women’s Day

    International Women’s Day’s history began on February 28, 1909. Known originally as “National Woman’s Day” it was first proposed by activist Theresa Malkiel and loosely based on the urban legend commemorating a protest by women garment workers in New York City, on March 8, 1857.

    Inspired by Malkeil and other American activists, women’s rights activists Luise Zietz, Clara Zetkin and Kate Duncker suggested there should be an annual Women’s Day. One hundred women delegates at an international women’s rights conference from 17 countries agreed. On March 19, 1911, International Women’s Day was officially marked for the first time. More than one million people celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Women wanted not just the right to vote, but to fight against sex discrimination in the workplace and to hold public office.

    In 1913, International Women’s Day was recognized in Russia for the first time, and became a part of a movement that led to the Russian Revolution in 1917. At that time, in St. Petersburg, women went on strike for “Bread and Peace” demanding the end to World War I, Czarism, and the shortage of food in Russia.

    That day was March 8. The next day workers walked out of factories leading to mass strikes and the abdication of Nicholas II just 7 days later, all resulting in Russian women earning the right to vote.

    International Women’s Day began to spread to different countries and by 1949, it reached China where March 8th was declared an office “half-day of work” for women.

    In 1967, the notion of women’s rights was taken up by the next generation of feminists, including those in the U.S. who called for equal pay, equal economic opportunity, equal legal rights, reproductive rights, subsidized child care and the prevention of violence against women.

    The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in 1975, which was declared “International Women’s Year”. In 1977, the United Nations invited members to proclaim March 8th as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

    The 100 year celebration of International Women's Day occurred in 2011. In the United Kingdom activist Annie Lennox lead a march across one of London's iconic bridges raising awareness IWD and in support for global charity Women for Women International. By this time, IWD had become an official holiday in most countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, Kazakhstan, Laos, Madagascar, Mongolia, Nepal, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. In others political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events are held as well as local women's craft markets, theatrical performances, fashion parades and the like. Many global corporations have come on board and actively supported IWD by running their own events and campaigns.

    In the year 2021, with larger representations of women role models in every walk of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. While great improvements have been made in the last century, the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. And so each year International Women’s Day not only inspires women to reach their dreams and celebrate their achievements, but also is a call to action for gender parity for all women throughout the world.

    For more Information See: International Women’s Day official website

    International Women’s Day Summit, March 8-10


    Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is considered the Sacred (most important) month. It is remembered as the month that the Prophet Muhammed received the first revelations that comprise the Holy Quran. This religious annual observance and month of fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

    During the month of Ramadan, adult Muslims fast from dusk until dawn, unless ill, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, or traveling. The goal is for Muslims to grow spiritually and build stronger relationships with Allah, accomplished by:

    • Praying and reciting of Quran
    • Being intentional and selfless in actions
    • Abstaining from gossiping, lying and fighting
    • Fasting between sunrise and sunset
    • Giving and performing generous acts

    For 2021, Ramadan begins at sunset on Monday, April 12th, and will end at sunset on Wednesday, May 12th.

    • The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar; therefore, the month of Ramadan migrates through the solar seasons, and it takes approximately 33 years to complete the backward migration through the Gregorian/western calendar. For 2022, Ramadan will begin on April 1st.
    • Traditionally, each day the fast is broken at sunset by drinking water and eating dates. Typically, the breaking of the fast ‘iftar’ is celebrated with family and friends, strengthening these relationships.

    Eid Al-Fitr ‘Festival of Breaking the Fast’

    • Eid Al-Fitr is a three-day festival after the last day of Ramadan. It is a coming together of community, friends, and family to eat special foods, enjoy each other's company, and exchange gifts.
    • Eid is also celebrated to pay respect to Allah for providing the strength and endurance during the month-long fasting rituals.
    • During Eid, fasting is not permitted.



    The Jewish High Holy Days:

    Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur


    What: Together, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur represent the "ten days of repentance" or "the days of awe".Rosh Hashanah is also a judgement day, when Jews believe that God balances a person's good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds, and decides what the next year will be like for them. My memory of worshipping in synagogue include rabbinical leaders stating “the gates are closing”,meaning a Jew’s fate is sealed for the year to come after the shofar is blown at the end of Yom Kippur services.1

    Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, when we are closest to G d and to the essence of our souls. Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement,” as the verse states, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G d.”1 Yom Kippur is a fresh start, with the slate wiped clean and a state of At-one-ment!

    When: The 10th day of Tishrei (in 2021, from several minutes before sunset on Wednesday, September 15, until after nightfall on Thursday, September 16), coming on the heels of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year, which is on the first and second days of Tishrei);

    How: For nearly 26 hours we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or apply lotions or creams, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations. Instead, we spend the day in synagogue, praying for forgiveness.

    Just months after the people of Israel left Egypt in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), they sinned by worshipping a golden calf. Moses ascended Mount Sinai and prayed to G d to forgive them. After two 40-day stints on the mountain, full Divine favor was obtained. The day Moses came down the mountain (the 10th of Tishrei) was to be known forevermore as the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur.

    How Yom Kippur Is Observed

    Like Shabbat, no work is to be done on Yom Kippur, from the time the sun sets on the ninth of Tishrei until the stars come out in the evening of the next day. On Yom Kippur, we afflict ourselves by avoiding the following five actions:

    • Eating or drinking (in case of need, see here and consult a medical professional and a rabbi)
    • Wearing leather shoes
    • Applying lotions or creams
    • Washing or bathing
    • Engaging in conjugal relations

    The day is spent in the synagogue, where we hold five prayer services:

    • Maariv, with its solemn Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur;
    • Shacharit, the morning prayer, which includes a reading from Leviticus followed by the Yizkor memorial service;
    • Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service;
    • Minchah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah; The story of Jonah and the Whale is more than a story of a disgruntled prophet, but represents both G-d’s justice and compassion.
    • Neilah, the “closing of the gates” service at sunset, followed by the shofar blast marking the end of the fast.

    'G'mar Chatima Tova!! (May you be Sealed in the Book of Life)