Published on: 2003-09-26
POINTS OF FAITH
Holy days observed by non-Christian religions
Happy New Year!
But where's Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark? Who hid the champagne? When does the countdown start?
Sorry, wrong new year - and certainly the wrong attitude. There's a world of difference between holidays and holy days.
And Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, is definitely one of the latter.
It's also one of the dozens of days each year that glides unnoticed through the busy lives of people unfamiliar with its religious significance. For most people, Sept. 26 could just as easily be March 4, April 21 or Nov. 6.
Each of those days marks a major holy day in one of the faiths of Fayetteville.
Don't know the importance of those dates? Don't be embarrassed. Even non-Jewish people who know what Yom Kipur is, or non-Muslims who recognize the word Ramadan will still scratch their heads when asked when these religious holidays are celebrated.
"In a country as diverse as ours, with the fabric of faith we share, it would be impossible to keep track," said Father Dimitrious Moraitis of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church.
There are two reasons: First, in a society dominated by Christian tradition, religious observances of other faiths tend to be overlooked. Second, because nearly all of them are dependent on the moon phases, or based on another calendar, they never fall on the same day two years in a row.
The wandering holidays make it difficult for local businesses and government offices to keep track. So they tend to make allowances for those of different faiths when it comes to the importance of holidays.
"The City of Fayetteville has no written provision or policy when it comes to faith-based time off," said city spokesman Scott Dorney. "It really has never been a problem. When it comes up, we work with the individual, respecting their religious beliefs. We respect diversity and accommodate the differences in accordance with Title VII."
At PWC, Carolyn Justice-Henson said each request is taken on a case-by-case basis.
"Our being a Monday through Friday operation tends to take care of a lot of potential problems," she said. "But if a problem arises, we work with the individual. Depending on the situation and the time involved, it might be handled like family leave.
"The bottom line is we would not use time off for religious observance to reflect badly on an employee's record."
That strategy was followed by a half-dozen private Fayetteville businesses contacted. Employees generally accommodate the needs of workers when it comes to religious beliefs.
The separation between holiday and holy day is far more narrow in nations that endorse a specific religion, such as Greece.
"After 1,700 years of practice, it is hard to separate them," Moraitis said. "For example, in Greece, March 25 is a national holiday. It is the date of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, nine months before the birth of Christ.
"It is also remembered as the day the Greeks gained their independence from the Ottoman Empire. So on one hand you have the people shaking off the yolk of Ottoman oppression and also all men freed from the yolk of sin.
"There are about a dozen feast days there, and on those days, everything closes, everything stops."
In America, of all the religious holidays each year, only one - Christmas - is able to close down the country.
So, while it stands like a year-end monolith, days of religious observation such as Al-Hijra and Sukkot slip beneath the radar.
Which is both unsurprising and a bit of a shame, says Josef Levanon. As the rabbi of Fayetteville's Beth-Israel Synagog, he understands the difference between big-time holidays and the spiritual introspection of holy days.
"We will celebrate Rosh Hashana, but it is not just two days on the calendar," he said. "And Yom Kipur (Oct. 7) is not that one day.
"Rather, it is a reflection of a season, an entire season of self-introspection. It culminates with 27 hours of prayer and fasting, but much comes before it."
"We call this the High Holy Day season," Levanon said. "It is not a holiday. It is not a time to party, but a time of looking at yourself and the world. It is a time for people to stand up and see where they are heading. If you need to make a U-turn, this is the time."
Muslim believers celebrate a similar period of time with Ramadan, which begins on Oct. 27 this year. Like the time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur, Ramadan is a period of fasting, prayer and introspection.
Christianity has a similar period during Lent. And, like the other faiths, it doesn't sit still on the calendar, moving between February, March and April.
"The preparation of Lent is seen as an effort to share the sorrow of Christ's suffering," Moraitis said. "In that way, we are able to truly share in the joy of His resurrection."
There's an added bonus for the devout who follow the traditions of fasting.
"When I fast, I fast," Moraitis said. "But when it's over, I'm ready for a big triple-decker from Wendy's. There's a time to mourn and a time to celebrate."
Not all holy days are solemn occasions. Each faith has feast days that can stretch into a week of celebration. The Hindu and Buddhist faiths have several celebratory days. Baha'i's hold a 10-day feast each year to celebrate their faith. And the celebration of Easter closes Lent for Christians.
Of course, there's a little bit of calendar confusion there as well. Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter and Christmas later than their western counterparts. Greek Orthodox members follow the western calendar.
"In the 1920s the Patriarch of Constantinople adopted the Gregorian Calendar," Moraitis said. "If he hadn't, our holy days would have kept slipping on the calendar."
Here's a quick look at the major holy days of religions:
Buddhists celebrate many holy days, depending on the branch of their faith:
The Christian calendar has several major holy days, with several others set aside for saints and events in the life of Jesus. Dates for all except Christmas change each year, but here's how they line up in 2003:
The Hindu calendar contains dozens of holy days, reflecting the number of deities.
Among the more important are:
Islamic holy days are recorded on the Islamic lunar calendar, which keeps them moving on the Gregorian calendar. The term Eid is Arabic for "celebration," and is only attached to a couple of holy days.
Jewish holy days move around on the Gregorian calendar:
Wiccans celebrate eight sabbats, each about 45 days apart.
Four are considered minor; four are major. The major sabbats and their Celtic names are: Imbolc, Feb. 2; Beltane, April 30; Lammas, Aug. 1; and Samhain, Oct. 31.
Staff writer Chick Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3515.
©Copyright 2003, Fayetteville (NC) Observer (NC, USA)
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