Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vesak

Introduction

Buddha Altar
US Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Birthday of Lord Buddha is one of the most important holidays in Buddhist tradition. The holiday is celebrated on different days varying by religious tradition.  

For 2017,  Vesak is either on May 3, May 10, or June 9, depending on tradition. In Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, Vesak is celebrated a week earlier than in Theravada Buddhist tradition. Thus in Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and most Chinese traditions, Vesak will be on May 14. In Theravada tradition, the holiday comes roughly a week later. In 2017, the date for the Theravada traditions practiced in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be May 10. This is also the date celebrated by the United Nations for the holiday.  In Indonesia, the holiday is dates as May 11.  In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the holiday -- known in Tibetan as Saga Dawa -- is observed on June 9.  

The birthday of the Buddha is an official public holiday on May 3 in South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau. It is an official public holiday on  May 10 in Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and several Indian states. on May 11 in Indonesia.  In Sri Lanka, both May 10 and 11 are both official public holidays.

The holiday is most widely known as Vesak or Wesak, or in religious writings as the original word in Pali (the language of the Buddha) as Vesākha.  Other names for the Birthday of Lord Buddha include Fó Dàn in several Chinese dialects, Saga Dawa (among Tibetans), Visakha Bucha (among Thais), Phật Đản among Vietnamese, Hanamatsuri among Japanese, Seokka Tanshin-il among Koreans, Wesak or Waisak (among Malays and most Indonesians), Vixakha Bouxa (among Laotians),  Wisakha Bucha or Visakah Puja  (among Thais) and Visakah Puja or Buddha Purnima (among many Indians and Nepalese). These are all names for the same holiday.

Dating Vesak

 Tian Tan Big Buddha, Hong Kong
The date assigned to Vesak depends on which of the different Buddhist lunar calendars each specific Buddhist tradition uses. Additionally, because the East Asian lunar calendar does not parallel the Gregorian calendar, the date of Vesak appears on different days of the secular calendar; however, generally, Vesak comes in April or May.

In most Mahayana Buddhist traditions -- and most notably those used in South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau -- Vesak falls on the eighth lunar day of the fourth month in the East Asian lunar calendar. Thus in 2017, Vesakh falls on May 3 in those traditions.

In most Theravada Buddhist traditions, Vesakh beings on the first full moon Uposatha day of either the fifth the sixth lunar month (depending on whether or not it is a leap year) of the East Asian lunar calendar. An Uposatha day is a mind-cleansing day that occurs on four times per lunar month according the stages of the moon. In the Theravada tradition, though, the interpretation as to what counts as being first full moon Uposatha differs from national tradition. Thus, for 2017, Vesak is celebrated on on May 210 or 11 depending on national tradition.

Finally, in Japan, Vesak (or Hanamatsuri) is not determined by the East Asian lunar calendar but instead has been officially tied to April 8 in the Gregorian calendar since the Meiji Restoration. 

As multiple interpretations of when the date fell existed based on Chinese, Hindu and other calendars, the Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists met in Sri Lanka in 1998 and agreed to the first full moon of May date (with a leap year built into the cycle on a complicated formula that occasionally places the date in June).

Monks celebrating Vesak
at United Nations, 2006
This resolution was the basis for the United Nations General Assembly's resolution regarding the dating of Vesak. Since 2000, the United Nations officially observes Vesakh as the first full moon of May. The official UN Resolution for Vesak observance reads:


The General Assembly,
Acknowledging the hope expressed by the International Buddhist Conference, held in Sri Lanka in
November 1998, that the Day of Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May each year, be recognized internationally and, in particular, at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices,
Recognizing that the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May each year is the day most sacred to
Buddhists, who commemorate on that day the birth of the Buddha, his attainment of enlightenment and his passing away,
Considering that international recognition at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices would constitute acknowledgement of the contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for over two and a half millennia and continues to make to the spirituality of humanity,
Resolves that, without cost to the United Nations, appropriate arrangements shall be made for
international observances of the Day of Vesak at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices, in consultation with the relevant United Nations offices and with permanent missions that also wish to be consulted.
 http://www.worldlii.org/int/other/UNGARsn/1999/192.pdf  
The Birth of the Buddha

The Gautama Buddha was born in 563 BCE in the town of Lumbini in northern India to the King Sudhodana and Queen Maya, the rulers of the kingdom of Sakya.  His parents named him Siddhartha. He is also called Sakyamuni or the Sage of Sakya.

His mother the queen had a dream of a white elephant and a white lotus entering her womb.  This was interpreted as an omen that the child she would bear would be either a great warrior or a great religious leader. It was for this reason that the young Siddhartha was shielded from the outside world by his father who wanted him to be a great warrior king and feared that exposure to the sufferings of the world would turn his son into a spiritual leader instead.


Birth of the Buddha
Panel painting, Jogyesa Temple
Seoul, South Korea
Legend has it that Queen Maya gave birth to him with no pain of childbirth and that immediately after being born, the baby Siddhartha took seven steps to represent the seven Buddhist directions (east, south, west, north, up, down and here). It is for this reason that when the Buddha is depicted as an infant, he is often shown standing while pointing with one hand up and the other down to signify the seven directions.

In the Mahayana tradition, the infant is also supposed to have immediately spoken, saying, "I alone am the World-Honored One." It is important to note that this last point is highly debated. Some Buddhists do not accept that he said these words while others interpret these words only as meaning that he was aware at birth of the Buddha nature that is present in all living beings, not simply referring to himself.

Queen Maya died one week after the birth of her son but not before the visit of the ascetic Asita who pronounced that he saw in the child the 80 signs that he would become the Enlightened One. After his mother's death, the young Siddhartha was raised by his older sister.



Traditions Where the Buddha's Death Is Celebrated With His Birth


In Theravada Buddhism, Vesak is seen as both the day of the Buddha's birth and that of his death. This remains a very happy celebration even in Theravada tradition where the Buddha's death is intermingled with his birth. This is because at the Buddha's death, the Buddha counseled the disciple Ananda not to cry or feel sad but rather to honor the Dhamma, for the teachings that the Buddha shared are -- it was taught -- the only thing that is eternal.  Buddhists interpret this, then, as celebrating Vesak by reaffirming their belief in the Eight Noble Truths, to seek enlightenment, to practice acts of love, and to try to bring peace and harmony to the world.

Mahayana Buddhism, by contrast, celebrates the day of Buddha's death as a separate holiday. Please see my blog on Paranirvana (or Nirvana Day) for more on that holiday:



Observances and Celebrations

The celebration of Vesak -- regardless of tradition -- usually centers around ceremonies at the Buddhist
temple.  Buddhists in most traditions sing prayers about the Buddha, the Buddha's teachings (called the Dhamma) and the followers of the Buddha (called the Sangha). 

It is customary to bring beautiful offerings that by intention do not last long, showing the impermanence of all things.  Thus, some people bring cut flowers or flower petals (that wither soon), decorated candles (that
soon burn out) or incense sticks (that rapidly turn to ash). 

In almost all Buddhist traditions, people celebrate with items that fly, as representative of the freedom of the spirit brought by the Buddha's teachings. Among the most common of these practices comes with flying kites and with hanging paper lanterns that move in the wind. Many traditions fly special flags. Releasing birds is also practiced in many traditions.


Bathing the infant Buddha

Another common practice shared across many different traditions is the washing of an image of the Buddha as a baby standing with one hand pointing up and one hand pointing down. Worshippers place the baby Buddha statue on an raised altar inside of a basin or large bowl. They then pour water or tea from a ladle symbolically washing the baby Buddha.

Because this is a point of common misunderstanding, it should be emphasized here that images of the Buddha, though treated with great reverence, are not idols but simply representations of the Buddha. These statues and images are not seen as deities themselves.

Many Buddhists traditionally wear white as a part of the holiday as well. It is also customary to eat only vegetarian meals on Vesak for those who otherwise are not vegetarian.

An important aspect of Vesak is to express happiness and especially to bring happiness to those who may be unhappy.  This involves giving donations or doing special things for the sick and the elderly. It is
also traditional to decorate the temples with things of beauty and with scenes of the life of the Buddha, which are supposed to bring happiness to all who see them.


As always, this is my own summary of a religious tradition. I welcome your input.

Happy Vesak!

Want to Learn More?



"The Birth of the Buddha: Legend and Myth," About.com Buddhism:  http://buddhism.about.com/od/buddha/a/birthofbuddha.htm


“The Life of the Buddha,” Souled Out.org., http://souledout.org/wesak/storybuddha.html
"The Significance of Vesak: Buddha Day," (The Venerable) Mahinda, Buddhanet: http://www.buddhanet.net/vesak.htm


"Vesak or Visakah Puja," Buddhist-tourism.com, http://www.buddhist-tourism.com/buddhist-festivals/vesak.html

"What is Vesak Day and Why Celebrate It?" James Ure, The Buddhist Blog: http://thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com/2007/04/what-is-vesak-day.html

Photo and Clip Art Credits

Buddha Altar, US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado: My own photo

Tian Tan Big Buddha, Hong Kong: My own photo

Monks celebrating Vesak at United Nations, 2006: http://www.worldzen.org/vesak.php

Birth of the Buddha panel painting, Jogyesa Temple, Seoul: My own photo

Bathing the infant Buddha: http://www.palyulph.org/teachings.htm

Friday, April 20, 2012

Riḍván


Introduction
Sunset on April 20 marks the beginning of the 12-day Festival of Riḍván, the holiest day in Baha’iism. Although Ridván is generally given place of prominence, it should be noted that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, one of the two holy books of Bahai’ism, refers to Ridván as one of the two “Most Great Festivals” (the other is the Declaration of the Bab).   
Employees and students should be accommodated for observance on the first, ninth and twelfth days of Riḍván. Since Baha’iism observes holidays from the sunset of the preceding day through sunset of the day of the holiday, employees and students should be excused from sunset on April 22 through sunset on April 21, from sunset on April 28 through sunset on 29, and from sunset on May 1 through sunset on May 2.

Announcement of the Promised One
Riḍván marks the announcement by Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí that he was the Bahá'u'lláh or Promised One and Messenger of the One True God.

The Bahá'u'lláh made his announcement that he was the Promised One on April 21, 1863 in what was then called Najibiyyih Garden or Na’Mayn on the outskirts of Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris River. At the time what is today Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman authorities had banished the Bahá'u'lláh. Fearing a threat to the dominance of Islam in Baghdad, the Ottoman religious officials formally exiled in Constantinople to remove him from his growing throngs of followers.
The Garden of Ridván 
before the Iraqi government
built the Baghdad Medical City
over its location 
The Bahá'u'lláh stayed in Najibiyyih Garden for 12 days following his announcement. During this time he greeted his followers who came to meet with him before his exile. On the ninth day, the Bahá'u'lláh’s family arrived (the Holy Family having been delayed by the flooding of the Tigris up to that point).  On the twelfth day, the Ottoman authorities forcibly removed him to take him to prison in Constantinople. His followers then renamed the site as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise) which it is called today and which is from where the holiday takes its name.
The Three Declarations in the the Garden of Riḍván
While in the Garden of Ridván, after announcing himself to be the Promised One, the Bahá'u'lláh made three additional declarations. These were revealed in the Tablet of Ridvan.

The Baha'i Temple in Haifa, Israel
The Holiest Site in Baha'iism

In the First Declaration, the Bahá'u'lláh forbade any of his followers from religious war. He particularly excluded the Islamic interpretation of jihad as religiously justified reasons for war. This prohibition also specifically prevented his followers from fighting to protect their faith, including any thought to fight to protect the Bahá'u'lláh himself.
The Second Declaration indicates that after the Bahá'u'lláh no other Promised One or Manifestation of God would be made manifest for 1000 years. Still, the Bahá'u'lláh would not be the final Manifestation of God as a new manifestation would definitely come after the 1000 years were up.
Baha'i Temple, New Delhi, India
In the Third Declaration, the Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed that there is only one God and that the names of God were already present in all things:

He Who is the Desire of all nations hath shed upon the kingdoms of the unseen and of the seen the splendor of the light of His most excellent names, and enveloped them with the radiance of the luminaries of His most gracious favors -- favors which none can reckon except Him, Who is the omnipotent Protector of the entire creation. – “The Tablet of Ridván,” Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah
This last proclamation is seen as the unity of all religions, which themselves are simply different ways of approaching the one true God.  The unity of all religions is one of the core beliefs of Baha’ism along with the unity of all humanity and the unity of the one true God.

The Baha'i House of Worship
in Wilmette, Illinois near Chicago
is the largest Baha'i Temple in the world
Ridván Observance
Ridván is generally observed by refraining from all work on the first, ninth and twelfth days accompanied with communal prayers in the temple or gatherings in people's homes for worship services.  Beyond that, customs vary widely (as with the observance of all Baha’i holidays). Indeed, while the days of refraining from work are clearly indicated, the only formal requirement for communal prayers specifically laid out is that on the first day of Ridván at 3:00 PM (marking the time Bahá'u'lláh first entered the Garden of Ridván). Still, most Baha’i traditions customarily mark the ninth and twelfth days with communal prayers as well.  Additionally, many Baha’is go to the temple for communal gatherings on each day of the festival, although they still go to school or work on these other days.
Riḍván is also the time when Baha’is hold their annual elections for the nine-person local Spiritual Council. Each elected local Spiritual Council member holds this religious office for one year until the next Ridván.
While traditions beyond this vary greatly, among the most common customs among Baha’i congregations is the outdoor gathering for a communal picnic in a local garden or other green area as a remembrance of the Garden of Riḍván.  

 American children in cardboard boats
pretending to cross the Tigris River
on the ninth day of Ridván

Some Baha’i families re-enact scenes from the Bahá'u'lláh’s time in the Garden. For example, on the ninth day, children make symbolic boats to cross over the flooded Tigris River as the Bahá'u'lláh’s family had done.
 Ridván decoration board
with 12 flowers with an activity
for each day of the festival 





Other Baha’i traditions include displays of flowers such as roses to recall the garden setting.  People often decorate with assemblages of 12 items (such as twelve flowers or twelve Baha’i stars) to symbolize the twelve days that the Bahá'u'lláh stayed in the Garden of Ridván. 
Conclusion
As with all of my religious observance posts, this discussion of the holiday Ridván reflects only my superficial summary of the holiday. This post in no way intends to indicate what is or is not the proper way in which to celebrate the holiday from a theological perspective. The intention here is only informational.
Please feel free to leave a comment on your own observances or on anything else in this post. I welcome your input. Happy Ridván!


Want To Read More?
 “Happy Riḍván Festival!” All Beliefs, http://www.allbeliefs.com/showthread.php?t=10055
“Bringing the Ridvan Festival to Life,” Enable Me To Grow website, http://www.enablemetogrow.com/2012/04/11/bringing-the-ridvan-festival-to-life/

John Walbridge, “Ridvan,” Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time: Baha'i Studies volume 1, Oxford: George Ronald, 1995, posted on Baha’i Library Online, http://bahai-library.com/walbridge_encyclopedia_ridvan

Clip Art Sources

Garden of Ridvan photograph: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Ridvan-garden-baghdad.jpg

Baha'i Temple, Haifa, Israel: http://www.pathsofdevotion.com/_wizardimages/bahai_temple_haifa.JPG

Baha'i Temple, New Delhi, India: My own photograph

The Baha'i House of Worship, Wilmette, Illinois: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Willmette_how.jpg
American children in cardboard boats crossing the Tigris: http://www.motherhoodandmore.com/2011/05/horses-holy-days-tulips-and-nose-kisses.html

Ridvan decoration board: http://www.enablemetogrow.com/2012/04/11/bringing-the-ridvan-festival-to-life/

Closing Happy Ridvan clip art with rose: http://www.moringa.com.my/Ridvan1.jpg

“Ridván,” Fortunecity.com, Kids/Holidays: http://campus.fortunecity.com/caltech/531/kids/holydays/ridvan.html

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter and Pascha

Introduction

As part of the ongoing updates on religious observance, I would like to share the upcoming traditions of Holy or Great Week and Easter or Pascha.

Holy (or Great) Week is the Christian set of holidays that commemorate the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, beginning with Palm Sunday, running through  Jesus’ crucifixion and concluding with Holy Saturday. Holy Week is then followed by Easter.  Christians believe that Easter commemorates the date of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As a result, most Christians consider Easter to be the holiest day of the year. 


Please note that while this piece was first posted in 2012, the dates have been updated for 20178here.

Dates

Easter and Pascha are what is known as moveable feasts. Moveable feasts vary in the calendar according to a fairly complex set of calculations tied to the first Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox.

In the Western traditions, these dates are figured on the Gregorian calendar (that used in most of the secular world). In the Coptic and Orthodox traditions, these dates are figured on the Julian calendar. As a result, the dates for Easter in the Western tradition usually comes four to five days earlier than the equivalent date for Pascha in the Eastern traditions.

For 2018, for Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity Easter is Sunday April 1, the culmination of Holy Week, which began with Palm Sunday the preceding week.

For 2018, April 1 Palm Sunday, and thus the beginning Great Week (the preferred name for most Eastern Orthodox traditions) culminating with Easter Sunday (Pascha in Eastern Orthodox and Coptic traditions; Fassika in Ethiopian tradition) on April 8.

This is not the usual case, as Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian Tewahedo Christian traditions usually fall at a later date than Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations.


Holy Week / Great Week


Palm Sunday
Entry of Christ
into Jerusalem
by Maximino Cereso

The first day of Holy Week is known as Palm Sunday to Protestants (and unofficially to Roman Catholics), as Passion Sunday to Roman Catholics (at least officially so since a formal name change in 1970), and as the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem in many (though not all) Eastern Orthodox traditions.  Regardless of name, the holiday celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem described all four Gospels.  In three of the four, the crowds cut branches to herald Jesus’ entry. For example, Luke 12: 13 reads

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
"Hosanna!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Blessed is the King of Israel!" 
Many Christian traditions burn the fronds afterwards for use on Ash Wednesday of the following year. From this comes the tradition of processions with branches of some sort.


Palm Sunday Procession
Mount of Olives
Jerusalem
Among most Roman Catholics, the processions are with palm fronds, although among Italian Catholics, many use olive branches and Polish Catholics traditionally use willow branches. Likewise, among the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox, worshipers use willow branches instead of palms.  Among Ethiopian Orthodox, it is customary to wear headbands and rings made of palms and decorated with crosses. Among the various Arab Orthodox traditions, it is customary to hold candles decorated with flowers as well as palm branches. Greek Orthodox customarily carry crosses either made from or decorated with palm or bay leaves. Some national customs have developed around the day.  In Wales and parts of England, it is customary to eat figs or fig. Among Greeks, it is customary to eat fish. In Lebanon, Christians celebrate with the shanineh, a procession in the church in which children carry candles decorated with flowers
and ribbons while sitting on their parents’ shoulders and being marched around the church.    In Italy, Palm Sunday is the traditional day for making up with those with whom one has quarreled during the year. 

Holy Thursday

The Thursday of Holy Week is known as Holy Thursday among Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations.  It is known as Maundy Thursday among Anglican Protestants. Some Protestant churches (especially those of Scandinavian origin) use the term Sheer Thursday interchangeably with Holy Thursday.  Regardless of name, the holiday commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper, the celebration of the Passover Seder with the disciples. 
Eastern Orthodox Red Pascha Eggs

Many Orthodox traditions take place on Holy Thursday.  Among most Orthodox, Holy Thursday is the day when traditional Pascha loaves (the type varies by nationality) are baked and eggs are dyed.  Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, eggs are dyed red (representing the blood of Christ). In Greek Orthodox tradition, the first dyed egg is placed in front of the home’s iconstasis (the spot where the family icons stand).

Among Germans – both Catholic and Lutheran – eggs are also dyed on Holy Thursday, although there the color is traditionally green.

Among both Greek and Russian Orthodox, candles are lit during a portion of the church service  – often called the “Thursday Fire”; these candles are then used to light the family’s lampada (an oil lamp) either at the church itself (among Russian Orthodox) or in the family home (among Greek Orthodox). 

Armenian Orthodox footwashing
Among Armenian Orthodox, believers wash each others feet in recognition of this act of humility performed by Jesus at the Last Supper. Some Protestant sects also perform this ritual.

Among Filipino Catholics, it is customary to visit several churches as a way of keeping vigil as the disciples did when Jesus prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane.   The French practice the custom of the “flying bells” in which the church bells are prohibited from ringing until Easter, while children are told that the bells have flown away carrying away all the grief people feel.

Good Friday / Great Friday

The Friday of Holy Week is called Good Friday among Roman Catholics and Protestants and as Passion, Holy or Great Friday among Eastern Orthodox. Regardless of name, the date marks the Crucifixion of Jesus on on Golgotha (or Calvary) Hill in Jerusalem

This date is a very somber holiday for all Christians.  In many Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, the cross is covered or various ornaments are removed from the church. Among many Lutherans, after Good Friday services, the congregants leave the church and seal the doors (symbolic of the entombment of Christ). 

Among Eastern Orthodox and some Roman Catholics, Good Friday is either a fast day or a partial fast day.  This often varies by nationality.  For example, among Catholics in Ireland (and thus many of Irish descent outside of Ireland), it is customary to fast except for three bites of bread and three sips of water (representing the Trinity). Traditionally Coptic Christians fast both Friday and Saturday. 

Bermuda kite
Bermuda is known for its annual kite-flying tradition. The famous Bermuda kites are flown only one day a year: on Good Friday. The hexagonal Bermuda kites vary are usually feature colorful geometric patterns. Some of the kites makes buzzing noises. Others are so huge that they may take more than one person to get them aloft. All of them are made with strings going around flat sticks nailed at the center that form the spokes of a wheel, and all contain very long tails. The kite-flying are symbolic of the ascension to heaven.

Other Good Friday national customs include setting a bonfire and burning straw effigies Judas in Portugal and covering mirrors as a sign of mourning in Poland. In many Roman Catholic countries – notably in Latin America and the Philippines, Good Friday processions centered on carrying a life-size cross are paraded through the main street or central square.

Holy Saturday / Great Sabbath

The Saturday before Easter/Pascha is called Holy Saturday by Roman Catholics and most Protestants, Easter Even by Anglicans, and the Great Sabbath or Great Saturday among the Copts and Eastern Orthodox. Regardless of the name, the holiday represents the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Among Roman Catholics and most Protestants, this is the day in which Christ died or rested in the tomb. For Copts and some Eastern Orthodox, it is a fast day.

Traditionally Roman Catholics abstained from meat but this tradition was stopped by the Pope in 1970. Among Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Holy Saturday is the only day in the year in which Mass is not celebrated.

While variations exist as to the nature of what Christ did during this time, most Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic and Mormon traditions attribute some form of Christ’s “harrowing of Hell” in which Jesus descended among the dead. 

 Święconka
Among Polish Catholics and several Slavic Orthodox groups, baskets of food including a butter lamb are brought to the church for a special blessing.  This service is called Święconka or "the Blessing of the Baskets."

In Orthodox tradition, the church vestments are changed from black to white, symbolizing the saving of those captive in Hell; among Greek Orthodox, flower petals and laurel leaves are traditionally spread around the church to symbolize the broken shards of the gates of Hell.  In Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran tradition, a holy vigil is held at night as Easter approaches.

Easter / Pascha

Easter or Pascha is the most important day of the Christian year.  This is the celebration in all traditions of the resurrection of Christ. In all Christian faiths, special services are held. Among Roman Catholics, the lighting of a Paschal candle is part of the service, representing the risen Christ. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, many candles are lit for the same purpose.


Opposition to National and Secular Practices

The national customs associated with Easter or Pascha are numerous.  It should be noted, though, that several fundamentalist Protestants sects such as (among others) adherents of the United Church of God International, Reform Adventism, and Jehovah’s Witness oppose national or secular practices on Easter for what they believe to be its pagan origins. This was also the official position of the Church of Scotland until the beginning of the 20th century.

Some Protestant sects object to
the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs
For example, throughout the United States, Canada and England, people participate traditionally in easter egg hunts and refer to eggs brought by the Easter Bunny. These Protestant groups particularly object to the fertility symbols used in many North American and British celebrations – such as the Easter Bunny which they assert goes back to the pagan Ostara holiday with its worship of Eostre from which Easter derives its name in most Germanic language
countries, including English. 

Indeed, the etymology of the word "Easter" in English deriving from the pagan holiday Ostara has led some Protestant groups to call the holiday "Resurrection Day" in place of Easter.

They also object to the easter egg (or egg-shaped substitutions such as jelly beans) as having derived from the Persian worship of the fertility goddess Ishtar or other pre-Christian Persian traditions such as Zorastrianism's Naw-Rúz.

For more on Ostara, please see my earlier blog post at

http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2012/03/ostara.html


For more on Naw-Rúz, please see my earlier blog post at

http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2012/03/naw-ruz.html


It should be noted that those groups opposed to national and secular practices nonetheless believe in the holiday's religiously Christian subject matter, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  Their objections are only to what they believe to be national or secular practices.

National and Secular Traditions 

For a great many Christians, Easter’s various national and secular traditions are well-loved and honored.

The Easter Egg


White House Easter egg hunt
In the United States, England, Wales and Canada, many secular traditions are widely practiced. Some of these have spread to other countries as well.  These practices include the coming of an Easter Bunny who hides or lays Easter eggs that children then collect in an Easter egg hunt.  Even the United States President has an official Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn.

The giving of Easter baskets with small toys and candy (notably jelly beans, chocolate eggs and bunnies, and marshmallow chicks called Peeps) to children is traditional.  Sometimes, the baskets are hidden from the children who then must search to find them.

Children meeting the Easter Bunny
Howell, Michigan Nature Center
At restaurants, children can have Easter breakfast with the Easter Bunny (a person dressed in a bunny outfit).  Children may also visit the Easter Bunny at shopping malls, museums and parks.

Many cities have official Easter parades. Some of the best-known annual Easter Parades in London, New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Louisville, New Orleans, and Toronto.

Outside of North America, one widely practiced custom is the playing of some variation of the “egg-knocking” game.  People crack their Easter eggs against other people’s Easter eggs and the person and the last person with an unbroken egg is supposed to have a year of good luck. Variations of this practice are common in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Latvia, the Netherlands and Norway.

National Easter-Related Customs Around the World


Australia


Australians celebrate Easter with the Easter Bilby (a long-eared native bandicoot) instead of a rabbit.

In part, this is because the bilby is a local animal, but in part this is because Australians are less fond of rabbits than many other nationalities are. Australia has been plagued by rabbits which have destroyed crops and endangered native wildlife. 

England

Easter in England traditionally feature Morris Dances. The first record of Morris Dances date to 1448. That said, some have argued that similar dances actually predate Christianity and derive from pagan springtime dance rituals to frighten away the spirits of winter.


Hot-Cross Buns
Easter is also marked by the eating of hot-cross buns. These are buns made of sweetened bread with an icing-filled cross cut over their top. The hot-cross buns also predate Christianity, with the cross formerly dividing the bun into the four quadrants of the moon, but repurposed to represent the crucifixion. A recipe for hot-cross buns can be found at
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/hot-cross-buns-i/


France


In France, Christians hug and kiss as the church bells are rung. This has particular significance as the church bells are prohibited from ringing from Good Friday through Easter. The bells (which children are told “flew away” to see the Pope on Holy Thursday) return with chocolate Easter eggs.

Greece


Pascha Candlelight Procession
Corfu, Greece
Many Greeks welcome Easter in the early hours after midnight by having candles lit by the priest and then joining in a candlelight procession.  The church bells are rung during the procession, and often there are fireworks during or after the procession.

On Easter day itself, many Greeks traditionally hold an outdoor banquet to celebrate the holiday, with the main dish being some form of barbecued lamb.  It is also customary to eat Christopsomon, a special bread loaf decorated with a cross and red eggs.

Ethiopia

Ethiopians celebrate Fassika (their name for Easter) dress in special white clothing called yabesha libs. A huge, round sourdough bread made with flour, spices, oil and sugar called difo dabo is eaten on Fassika. Difo dabo is blessed by a priest and then handed out by the heads of the households to everyone visiting their homes. This is also often served with home-brewed tella (a dark barley beer) and tej a honey mead made with gesho (a local wooly hop-like plant). Since tella and tej take a week to brew, they are often left brewing in the home for all of Great Week.
Ethiopian difo dabo Easter bread



Israel

Pilgrims Walk the Via Dolorosa
in Jerusalem at Easter
Israeli Christians and Christian tourists to the Holy Land crowd Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa (or "Way of Suffering"). This is the path believed to be the route Christ followed on his way to be crucified.

The pilgrims stop at each of the nine exterior Stations of the Cross, beginning at the Lion's Gate (also called St. Stephen's Gate) and ending at Golgotha (Calvary) Hill.

There are 14 Stations of the Cross altogether but the last five are all within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.



Palestine

Many Eastern Orthodox Palestinian Christians celebrate the day before Easter with a "Saturday of Fire" marking the belief that fire emanated from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (in contested East Jerusalem). Orthodox priests emerge from the Orthodox chamber in the tomb with a flame from a holy fire there. Believer then use that flame to light other torches which are then used to lead processions back to their hometowns in Palestine for Easter.


Italy

Throughout Italy, as in France, people hug and kiss at the ringing of the church bells. Beyond that, dozens of local traditions highlight this or that city or town's Easter practices.  A few examples illustrate some of this.

Corse Rusticane, Merano, Italy
In Merano in Alto Adige/Südtirol each year on Easter Monday, the Corse Rusticane horse race takes place at the Maia Racecourse. This race is only among Haflinger horses (the local breed) and the riders wear the traditional outfits of the local towns and villages. Leading up to the race is a great parade of the Haflinger racehorses and of people dressed in traditional outfits.

Explosion of the Scoppio del Carro
Florence, Italy
In Florence in Tuscany, people take part in the annual Scoppio del Carro (cart explosion), in which a massive two-story high cart is filled with fireworks and dragged by oxen through the city center. The Archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket-firework which travels down a connecting wire to the cart. The tradition, begun in 1679, holds that the bigger the explosion, the better will be the coming harvest.

In another tradition in Tredozio in Emilia-Romagna, the town's four sections hold the annual Palio dell'Uovo or race of the eggs.

These are just three of many such local traditions in Italy.

The Netherlands

Traditionally, villages in the Eastern portions of the Netherlands hold communal bonfires as part of Easter festivities. Each town competes with the others nearby to build the largest bonfire.

Dutch Paasbrood
Throughout the Netherlands regardless of region, people look forward to eating Paasbrood (Easter bread) which is a once-a-year treat made of sweetened bread and almond paste with lemon peel and currants or golden raisins.

A recipe for Paasbrood can be found at:

http://www.countryliving.com/recipefinder/dutch-paasbrood-3043



Russia

Russians often celebrate Paskha (Pascha) with a midnight mass. The mass begins on Saturday evening. As Pascha begins at the stroke of midnight, the church bells are rung and the priest proclaims "Christ is risen!" to which the worshipers respond, "He is truly risen!"

Russian Paskha
At Paskha, Russians traditional eat the once-a-year specialty simply called "Paskha," the same as the holiday itself. This is a dessert made of cream cheese and a type of cottage cheese (both foods prohibited during Great Lent). The dessert is shaped like a pyramid and then often decorated with dried fruit. Finally on the top of the Paskha are written in icing the letters "XB" (standing for "Christ is Risen" in Russian). A recipe for Paskha can be found at
http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/crossculturaldesserts/r/paskacheese.htm

Latvia

The hanging of swings (and the swinging on them) is a traditional Latvian Easter custom. These are
Latvian Easter Swing
usually giant swings large enough to hold unmarried couples and has its origins in rites for finding suitable marriage partners. The swings, however, are not limited to unmarried couples though, and are a great favorite among children. Swinging high is particularly a goal for individuals (rather than couples) as the folk tradition holds that the higher someone can swing, the earlier that Spring will arrive. The custom of springtime swings predates the coming of Christianity in Latvia.

Latvians also dye eggs as in other countries. One Latvian difference here, though, is the use of onion skins to do the dyeing. White eggs are submerged in an onion skin mixture. A short submersion produces a bright yellow egg; a long submersion produces a brown-colored egg. Traditionally, leaves and strings are attached to the eggs before submersion. When the leaves or strings are removed, patterns are left on the eggs. On Easter morning, family and friends engage in Easter egg matches.  Each person knocks his or her egg against one another's eggs. The egg that remains uncracked by the end is supposed to bring the owner good luck and good health for the year.

Sweden

Easter is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Sweden, rivaling Christmas in its importance. As Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius, writing in the English-language Swedish paper The Local, explains:
Easter celebrations and traditions for the secular Swede are nearly as sacred as Christmas to the Swedish culture. Even devout atheists pay respect to the long-standing traditional norms that the holiday dictates in Sweden. Easter is a big deal to the entire country. http://www.thelocal.se/3525/20110421
Swedish Påskkärringar
One uniquely Swedish Easter custom is that of the påskkärringar (Easter witches or hags). On the Thursday before Easter, children paint their cheeks, put on headscarves that tie under their chins and wear long skirts and aprons. Then, carrying their broomsticks, they go door to door among their neighbors asking for Easter treats  (much in the manner of North America's Halloween). On Holy Saturday, much of the country lights bonfires to hasten the påskkärringar on their way back to their secret witches' meadow at Blåkulla (Blue Mountain). In Stockholm, the bonfires are prohibted but the påskkärringar seem to make their way home before Easter in any case.

Swedish påskris
An additional custom fairly unique to Sweden is that of decorating with birch branches -- called  påskris. Swedes adorn the birch branches with brightly-colored feathers and hang decorated easter eggs from them.

The påskris which now shows up in shops and on people's houses and porches are today fairly detached from their original purpose. At one time, undecorated birch branches were used to whip each other's backs on Good Friday to take part in Jesus' suffering on the cross.

Conclusion

I hope that this has been worthwhile, and I welcome your comments or additions. As always, this blog is meant only to inform; there is no intention to indicate what is or is not proper or improper religious practice.

There are many customs and traditions for Easter that I have not included here. Please feel free to share your own in the comments section.

Happy Pascha! Happy Resurrection Day! Happy Easter!





Want To Read More?

Alikiviadis C. Calivas, "The Origins of Pascha and Great Week": http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8504

CelebratingEaster.com:  http://www.celebratingeaster.com/traditions/

Easter World, "Easter Celebrations Around the World": http://www.dgreetings.com/easter/easter-world.html

Mary Fairchild, "What is Easter?" About.com, Christianity:  http://christianity.about.com/od/holidaytips/qt/whatiseaster.htm

Michael San Filippo, "Buona Pasqua! Easter in Italy" : http://italian.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/aa031401a.htm

New Advent, "Easter": http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05224d.htm

Nortdstjernan.com "Happy Easter! A Swedish Easter: The symbols, the food, the traditions." http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/traditions/1167


Clip Art Sources

Opening Happy Easter clipart: http://www.clipartpal.com/clipart_pd/holiday/easter/happyeaster_10282.html

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Maximino Cereso: http://www.servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/dibujosA/19RamosA.jpg

Palm Sunday Procession, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem: http://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/21mount-olive-processionjpg.jpg?w=450&h=300

Orthodox Red Pascha Eggs: http://friedababbley.hubpages.com/hub/Cracking-Your-Easter-Eggs-and-other-Greek-Orthodox-Easter-Traditions-and-Facts

Armenian Orthodox foot washing: http://cdn3.wn.com/pd/4a/93/cf0117ef8aa7629a564a8a4ff4ed_grande.jpg

Bermuda Kite: http://members.chello.nl/h.hagg3/Bermuda_Kite_3.htm

Święconka: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plik:%C5%9Awi%C4%99cone2007.jpg

Easter Bunny with egg basket clip art: https://d27fcql9yjk2c0.cloudfront.net/assets/3178348/lightbox/Easter%20Bunny.jpg?1299876470

White House Easter egg hunt: http://www.army.mil/article/55725/Fort_Meade_youth_hunt_for_Easter_eggs_at_the_White_House/

Children with Easter Bunny, Howell, Michigan Nature Center: http://howellnaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Easter-Bunny-Breakfast.jpg
Bilbies not bunnies: http://members.optusnet.com.au/bilbies/Easter_Bilby.htm

Hot Cross Buns: http://www.womansday.com/food-recipes/traditional-easter-eats-around-the-world-117631

Pascha Candlelight Procession, Corfu, Greece: http://www.whatsup-corfu.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=682:pascha&catid=36&Itemid=22

Ethiopian difo dabo Easter bread: https://ethiopianwanderlust.com/2014/04/18/fasika-the-eloquent-pieces-of-ethiopian-easter-holiday/

Pilgrims Walk The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-9ArGiz8HTkc/Ta4Z60-PBuI/AAAAAAAAAPw/dGBsA05xqxk/s1600/JerusalemViaDolorosa1-800wH.jpg

Corse Rusticane in Merano: http://altoadige.gelocal.it/cronaca/2011/04/24/news/corse-rusticane-all-ippodromo-4033076

Explosion of the Scoppio del Carro, Florence: http://www.ultimateitaly.com/festival-events/scoppio-del-carro.html

Dutch Paasbrood: http://www.countryliving.com/recipefinder/dutch-paasbrood-3043

Russian Paskha: http://www.womansday.com/food-recipes/traditional-easter-eats-around-the-world-117631

Latvian Easter Swing: http://www.mytravelkit.org/2010/04/happy-easter/

Swedish Påskkärringar:  http://www.thelocal.se/3525/20110421

Swedish påskris: http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/traditions/1167

Closing Happy Easter clip art: http://www.clipartpal.com/clipart_pd/holiday/easter/happyeaster_10285.html