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



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.
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


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. 
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


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 2017 here.


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 2017, for all branches of Christianity share a common date: Sunday April 26.  Both Holy Week and Great Week (the preferred name for most Eastern Orthodox traditions begin on Palm Sunday April 9 and culminate with Easter Sunday (Pascha in Eastern Orthodox and Coptic traditions) on April 26.

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,
"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
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. 

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


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


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


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. 


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


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.


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.


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 Sepulchre.


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:



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


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.


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.


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

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



At sunset on Monday April 10, 2017, the Jewish holiday of Passover (in Hebrew called Pesach) begins.  Passover is an 8-day holiday (ending at sunset April 18 in 2017) commemorating the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt sometime in the 14th or 13th century BCE.

Unlike most Jewish holidays whic
h are largely celebrated in the synagogue of temple, the most significant rite of Passover – the Seder -- is specifically celebrated in the home.  Among Orthodox, Conservative and some Reform Jews, the Seder is conducted on two consecutive nights.  Among most Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, Pesach is celebrated only on the first night.  

The Seder

For Jews, the Seder is a central religious obligation. As a result Jewish employees and students may not attend work or class on the evenings of Seder, and should be accommodated.  Attendance of work or class before sunset may also be difficult for many Jewish employees and students who may originally be from outside the area, since they may need to celebrate the holiday at the home of parents or grandparents.   

The Seder is the central event of Passover.  The Seder follows a specifically delineated order, and indeed the word Seder in Hebrew simply means “order.”

The Seder centers around the reading of the story of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt, the encounter of Moses and Aaron with the Egyptian Pharaoh and the eventual freeing of the slaves and their exodus through the Sinai desert to the Holy Land.  The requirement to conduct the Seder is derived from the Hebrew Bible in Exodus 13:8 which gives the date for the Seder and in which God commands the Jews:

And you shall tell it to your children on that day, saying, 'Because of this God did for me when He took me out of Egypt.

The Seder has 15 specific steps from an introductory blessing of wine and the washing of hands to a final prayer ending the service with a prayer for the coming of the Messiah concluding with the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” (L'shana habaah b'yerushalayim).

One of the items in the service best known to non-Jews is the asking of the “Four Questions” (the Mah Nishtanah) which begin with the question “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Because the youngest child must recite the questions (in Hebrew and often from memory), it is a point not only of special attention in the service but of frequent comedy routines among Jewish US and Canadian comedians.

The Goldberg Haggadah is
one of many different
Haggadah editions
The order of the service (including the telling of this story) is written in a special book used only for the Seder service called the Haggadah.  Central to service is the recognition that the Seder commemorates the founding of the Jews as a people and the reminder that Jews must be compassionate for the less fortunate since they had been slaves in the land of Egypt.  This often includes inviting the poor or those who have nowhere to go for Seder to one’s own home.

 In April 2008, US President Barack Obama
held the first ever White House Seder
While different traditions may vary from one group of Jews to another, these 15 steps are always included, and seem to have been followed since at least 160 BCE with the Haggadah of Rabbi Yehudah bar Ela’ay.  While this date is the one most provable other historians place the date of the first Haggadah much earlier at 280 BCE or 360 BCE.  The observance of Passover itself – if not necessarily in its current order of the Seder service, however, is believed to have been practiced since the exodus of Egypt.

The Seder Plate

The Seder involves the setting up of a special Seder plate with items symbolic of the Passover story.   The items include:        

  • Maror: bitter herbs (usually horseradish) symbolizing the bitterness of slavery
  • Karpas: any vegetable other than that used for the maror (usually parsley or celery) that is dipped in salt water to symbolize (among other things) the tears shed in slavery
  • Charoset or Charoses: a sweet, brown bumpy mixture (usually of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon) that symbolizes the mortar (which it resembles) used by the slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt
  • Roasted egg:  a symbol of either (depending on different interpretations) Springtime or the sacrifice formerly conducted in the Temple of Jerusalem in the days before it was destroyed by the Romans. Historically, though, this symbol (along with the Christian Easter egg) has its likely roots in the ancient Persian Zoroastrian tradition of the Naw-Rúz egg (for more on that, please see my earlier post http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2012/03/naw-ruz.html )
  • Lamb bone:  a symbol of either (again depending on different interpretations) the lamb’s blood with which the Jews marked the dwellings during the final plague on Egypt or symbolizing another Temple sacrifice

The Cups of Wine

The Four Cups

The Passover meal also involves blessings on four cups of wine.  The blessings represent specific promises of God to the Jews in the Hebrew Bible’s book of Exodus (6:6-7). For example, the first blessing relates to the passage:

Passover wine cup
I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you from under their bondage and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgments: and I will take you to Me for a people and I will be to you a God.

Correspondingly, the first cup is called the cup of sanctification. The other three cups of wine correspond to different blessings. Thus, the second blessing is called the cup of judgment; the third, the cup of redemption; and the fourth, the cup of the kingdom.
Some Jews (and especially children) use grape juice and others very small cups to avoid the effects of four large cups of wine.

Sephardic and Ashkenazic Differences in Tradition

It should be noted that some differences occur among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews on some points.  Among the Ashkenazic (Jews of East and Central European descent) and Sephardic (Jews descended from those fled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490’s when practicing Judaism became a capital crime; these Jews now  are largely of Latin American, North African, Arabian, Turkish, Greek or Dutch descent).

Ashkenazic Jews bless four cups of wine, Sephardic bless only the 1st and 3rd cups of wine. Additionally, the definition of what is and is not prohibited food diverges among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, notably over foods such as rice.

Elijah's and Miriam's Cup
 Cup for Elijah
Additionally, a fifth cup of wine is left on the table.  At a point of the service, the door is opened to allow Elijah the Prophet to come and join the meal. It is also customary to offer any outside who are in need to join the Seder at this time (since some Jewish traditions indicated that Elijah and the Messiah may well appear as beggars or of poor and humble background).The Prophet Elijah is supposed to come before the Messiah arrives. 

Many Reform and Conservative Jews have added a sixth cup for Miriam, the sister of Moses to maintain a gender-free association. 

In houses with young children, an adult often kicks a table leg to make the wine in the cups move as if Elijah and Miriam are drinking from the cup.


On Passover, Jews are forbidden from eating any leavened bread for the entire eight days. Instead, they eat unleavened bread – made of water and flour only – called matzo. Because Hebrew does not transliterate well into English, the spelling is also rendered Matzah, Matza, Matzoh, Mazzah, Massah, or Massa – they all mean the same thing.   In some traditions, the matzo is round. In others, it is made in squares.

To be unleavened, not only must the bread have no other ingredients (e.g., no yeast), but must be made in 18 minutes or less.  The purpose of the matzo is to symbolize the speed with which the Jews had to flee Egypt, without time to even bake bread. In preparation for Passover, Jews clean their house of any bread or leavened products (called chametz).  The prohibition on food includes items that may include leavening of any sort and so Jews usually buy only food that is marked as “Kosher for Passover.”  This process is often elaborate, with different traditions followed by different groups. 

Most Orthodox and Conservative Jews also use special Passover plates that are only used during these eight days each year. 

Since matzo is the central symbol of Passover, it also appears on the Seder table in a stack of three pieces of matzo.  These pieces are usually placed in a decorated cloth envelope or sleeve designed for the purpose.
Breaking matzo
to make the afikomen
Since the Seder service is specifically intended to relate the story of the Passover to one’s children and since the service often lasts until late at night, keeping the children’s attention is an important part of the service. This is attained by the "hiding of the afikomen."  The middle piece of the three pieces of matzo is broken in two.  The smaller piece is returned to between the other two pieces while the remaining piece is hidden somewhere in the house.  This piece is called the afikomen, which simply means dessert in Hebrew. 
The point of hiding the afikomen is to maintain the attention of the children, who after the meal get to search for the afikomen.  The child who finds it, earns a prize of some sort as well as praise and extra attention.  After the afikomen is found, everyone eats a piece of it, and then no one may eat anything else for the rest of the evening (aside from tea or coffee and from blessings on wine).

The History of Blood Libel Accusations

Many Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Jews invite non-Jews to their home. This custom derives not only out of community feeling but as an attempt to dispel anti-Semitic myths about Passover that have caused much bloodshed and persecution over the years, and unfortunately continue to be spread in the present day.

The most widespread of these myths is the accusation that Jews either eat children at the Seder or that they collect the blood of children to make matzo.  These, of course, are patently false, and go very much against the Jewish laws against murder (including that in the Ten Commandments), prohibition of human sacrifice, and traditions of blood-aversion (kosher meat is prepared especially to avoid contact with blood, for instance). 

Still, the blood libel has a long history.  Quite literally hundreds of mass attacks on Jews have taken place against Jews for such “crimes” not only throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance (it was, for example, the cause of the expulsion of the Jews from England from 1290 to 1655, and one of the excuses for the outlawing of Judaism in Spain in 1492), but sadly continues into modern times.

The Three Roman Catholic Former Blood Libel Saints

William of Norwich

The Martyrdom of William of Norwich
Nuremburg Chronicle, 1493
Three Roman Catholic martyrs were sainted because they supposedly were murdered by Jews who used their blood to make matzo. The first of these is Saint William of Norwich. William of Norwich who died in 1144 and is the first recorded source for the blood libel accusations. William was 12 years old when he was murdered, purportedly for the making of matzo. It is significant that while William was clearly murdered in the woods, when the townspeople brought the Jews to trial for murdering him, the local courts acquitted them of any wrongdoing for lack of proof. Also significantly, William of Norwich was never formally canonized.

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln was the second Catholic saint who was claimed to have been martyred for the making of matzo. Not only has the Roman Catholic Church never formally canonized Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, but has never assigned a feast day to him. In 1955, the Anglican Church officially renounced Little Saint Hugh, and placed a plaque in Lincoln Cathredral at the site of his former shrine denouncing the blood libel. The plaque reads:
Plaque denouncing the blood libel
of Little Saint Hugh,
Lincoln Cathedral, England 

Trumped up stories of "ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.
Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:
                           Lord, forgive what we have been,
                           amend what we are are,                                     
                          and direct what we shall be.

Simon of Trent

The martyrdom  of Simon of Trent
Palazzo Salvatore, Trento, Italy
Simon of Trent was the next martyr supposedly killed for the making of matzo.  In 1475 in the city of Trento  
in Italy, the 2-year-old Simon was found murdered. The entire Jewish population of the city was arrested. After submitting to torture, 15 Jews admitted to murdering him for ritual purposes. All 15 were sentenced to be burned at the stake, although the Pope pardoned the six women among them. Of the nine men, one committed suicide and the other eight were burned at the stake.
It is important to note that Simon was again never officially canonized but did have a feast day (March 24).
In 1965, Simon was officially removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints and in 2000, the Church removed him from the Roman Martryology and officially suppressed any remaining worship.

The Only Remaining Blood Libel Saint: Saint Gavriil of Belestok

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church which has denounced all three saints connected with supposed libel, the Russian Orthodox continues to venerate a supposed blood libel victim as a saint: Saint Gavriil of Belestok.
Indeed, following the independence of Belarus, the cult of Saint Gavriil has grown in importance, with accompanying anti-Semitism centered on the blood libel accusation.

Gavriil was supposedly poked and skewered over a course of nine days during the week of Passover in 1690 to obtain blood for ritual purposes. Slutko, a Jewish tax collector, was found guilty of the crime.  In 1820, the Russian Orthodox Church formally canonized Gavriil and made him patron saint of children.
Church of Gavriil of Belestok
Belestok, Belarus

Under Soviet rule, Gavriil's remains were moved to the Museum of Atheism. In 1992, his relics were moved back to his hometown of Belestok to the Church of Gavriil of Belestok. Today, the church and his remains have become a pilgrimage site and the focus of a cult promoting anti-Semitism. For example, in 1992 the official Orthodox Church publication Tsarkounae Slova issued a warning in an article entitled "Saint Gavriil" against cults practicing human sacrifice, listing Hasidic Jews as one of those cults. The link (in Belorussian) is at

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has cited the activities of the cult of Saint Gavril each year since 2003 as anti-Semitic and encouraging violations of human rights.

Modern Blood Libel

The blood libel was widely spread in the 19th Century first by Tsarist Russia. The blood libel was then taken up in 20th Century by Nazi propagandists and their supporters.   

Burial of the dead
at the Kielce Massacre

One of the saddest of the 20th Century blood libels occurred in 1946 when a group of Holocaust survivors who had returned from the concentration camps to the village of Kielce, Poland only to be attacked by a crowd. Appallingly, the local Kielce police actually led the crowd in the massacre, claiming the returning Holocaust survivors had made matzo out of Christian children’s blood.  Of the roughly 200 Holocaust survivors who had come to Kielce, 40 were murdered and 80 were injured.

In the late 20th Century, the blood libel was primarily discredited except in the Arab-speaking world, most notably following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The blood libel has been and continues to be a common theme in Arabic language political cartoons as well as in official government accusations. 

Among the most notable of these official accusations came in 1991 when the Syrian delegation to the United Nations cited the blood libel as being a fact.  Sadly, the comment was made without opposition or criticism by any other delegation.

Blood Libel in the 21st Century

The matzo blood libel continues actively today. 

Recent Blood Libel Accusations in the Gaza Rallies, Summer 2014

The summer of 2014 saw attacks on Jewish shops, synagogues and cemeteries in of cities in Europe and the Americas including

  • Antwerp, Anderlecht, Ghent and Brussels in Belgium;  
  • Amsterdam and Amersfoot in the Netherlands; 
  • Berlin,  Kassel, Mainz, Nuremburg, and Wuppertal in Germany; 
  • Copenhagen in Denmark; 
  • Gothenburg, Jönköping and Malmo in Sweden; 
  • Trondheim in Norway;
  • Paris, Sarcelles, Sarre-Union and Toulouse in France; 
  • Larissa and Thessaloniki in Greece; 
  • Szikszo and Tatabanya in Hungary;
  • Istanbul in Turkey;
  • Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Nikolayev and Zaporozhye in Ukraine;
  • Rome in Italy 
  • London, Belfast, Manchester, Kingston in the United Kingdom  
  • Mexico City in Mexico
  • Buenos Aires, Basavilbaso, Mendoza and Santiago del Estero in Argentina
  • Santa Catarina in Brazil
  • Caracas in Venezuela
  • Calgary in Canada
  • Seattle in the United States

Blood Libel Poster at Berlin "Pro-Gaza" Rally
Beginning as pro-Gaza rallies (that took place in dozens of cities peacefully and without overt attacks as Jews), a substantial number of protesters turned to overt attacks on Jews.

Common among these were a banner of Israeli Prime Minister eating a child with blood dripping out of his mouth, a depiction of the blood libel. Some carried posters showing images of Jews eating children or wore t-shirts spattered with blood.  Others chanted blood libel chants such as "Bloodsuckers!" and "Child killers!" mixed in with non-blood-libel chants of "Death to the Jews" and "To the Gas Chambers" and other anti-Jewish slogans.

 Blood Libel Poster at Seattle "Pro-Gaza Rally 

Recent Official Government Stances Against Blood Libel Accusations

Russia: In January 2005, twenty members of the Russian Duma (the equivalent of its Parliament) formally lodged a complaint to the Prosecutor General’s office demanding the banning of all Jewish organizations based in part on practices that “extend even to ritual murder.” These Duma members eventually retracted their complaint following widespread condemnation. 

Ukraine:   Beginning in April 2005, one Ukraine’s leading Management Schools, the  Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (IAPM) began publishing a string of articles on the threat posed by “world Jewry” in its journal Personnel.  In December 2005, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko denounced the university. He resigned from the IAPM board, stating:  "The Head of State is worried that anti-Semitism spreads throughout Ukraine. He condemned the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (IAPM) as an institution that systematically publishes anti-Semitic articles in its publication Personnel.“ Following  this, the IAPM published a blood libel article in Personnel.  In 2006, Ukraine removed the IAPM’s accreditation for its persistent anti-Semitic actions.   Link
Palestine: In 2014 Hamas Spokesman Osama Hamdan claimed in speeches that Jews used Christian children in making matzo. In an August 8, 2014 interview on CNN,  refused to refute his earlier claim that "Jews eat Christian blood" when asked directly -- twice -- by (Jewish) CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer. A link to the video clip is here: http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/08/05/hamas-spokesman-doubles-down-on-jews-eat-christian-blood-libel-when-confronted-by-wolff-blitzer-on-cnn-video/

On March 27, 2013, Nawaf al-Zaru published an article in the journal of the Palestinean aid organizationg Miftah criticizing US President Barack Obama for hosting a Passover Seder at the White House, citing “Does Obama in fact know the relationship, for example, between ‘Passover’ and ‘Christian blood’..?! Or ‘Passover’ and ‘Jewish blood rituals?!... Much of the chatter and gossip about historical Jewish blood rituals in Europe are real and not fake as they claim; the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover.” After initially refusing to apologize or withdraw the article, the organization expressed "sincere regret" that the article was "accidentally and incorrectly published."
Egypt formally censured
Ossama El-Baz following his
2003 blood libel series of articles

April 21, 2001 blood libel cartoon
published in Al Ahram,
one of Egypt's largest daily newsapers
Egypt: Egypt is another government that took a stand against the blood libel accusations came in 2003. The Egyptian government objected following a string articles and publications claiming the practice of blood libel in the use of Moslem children's blood to make matzo in Egypt. Ossama el-Baz, a minister in the Egyptian government, published a series of articles explaining the falsehood of the blood libel myths and called on Egyptians to stop what he called “myths” based "on the basis of the racist fallacies and myths that originated in Europe." 

Recent Official Government Acceptance or Support of Blood Libel Accusations

While in both Russia and Egypt, these most recent popular accusations of the matzo blood libel were condemned by their governments, this is sadly not always the case. 


In October 2013, Budapest premiered an opera entitled The Red Heifer composed by the Hungarian Ivan Fischer. The opera was based on the theme of an actual 1899 trial of a Jew who was convicted for supposedly murdering a Christian woman for the making of matzo. While the opera received widespread protests from demonstrators outside the theater, it was supported by many, and reflects the sentiments of the openly anti-Semitic platform of the Jobbik (currently Hungary's second largest political party). http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/10/blood-libel_anti-semitism_in_hungary_past_and_present.html

Syria: In 1983, Mustafa Tlass, the Syrian Defense Minister published a book entitled The Matzah of Zion. The book – now in its eighth printing was cited favorably by the Syrian delegation at the United Nations in 1991. In late 2003, the Syrian government produced a TV series called Ash-Shatat (the Diaspora) depicting Jews collecting blood for making matzo.  The TV show is currently still being aired on Al-Manar, the satellite station owned by Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon.  The same show was also broadcast in Jordan on its Al-Mamnou satellite network until its airing was dropped in 2005 when the government of Jordan responded to US complaints regarding its contents.
A scene from
Horseman Without A Horse

Egypt: In 2001, an Egyptian film company produced a movie based in part on Mustafa Tlass’ book called Horseman Without A Horse. This 30-part television series was produced by the Saudi Arabia-based company Arab Radio and Television. The series showed not only the blood libel but dramatization of the fabricated hoax called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in which Jews are shown to secretly plot the conquest of the world. Horseman Without A Horse was moderately popular.

Despite protests lodged with the Egypian government by both the United States and Israel, Egypt did nothing to stop the broadcast or to point out that the Protocols have long been discredited (before Hitler and even moreso after Hitler). The US and Israeli protests, however, may have contributed to Egypt's official objection to the 2003 blood libel articles mentioned above.

In May 2013, the Egyptian Salafist politician Khaled Zaafrani claimed in a national interview on al-Hafez TV that “it is well-known that during Passover they make matzos called the ‘Blood of Zion.’ They take a Christian child, slit his throat, and slaughter him…they never forgo this rite.” When asked if Jews "still do this," Zaafrani declared "absolutely." http://www.timesofisrael.com/egyptian-politician-revives-passover-blood-libel/#ixzz2qaJNvYSX

This year, on March 27, 2016, the Egyptian media outlet  Sout al-Omma published a "news" story about how 48 Israeli Arab children were stabbed with nails and their blood used in a "Zion Pie." The article was then posted on Facebook where it was translated into English, causing protests after Facebook allowed the post to stand as free speech, responding officially that "We reviewed the share you reported for displaying hate speech and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards." 

Iran: In December 2005 in Iran, Dr. Hasan Hanizadeh was widely praised by government and religious leaders for his comments on state television when he stated, "Unfortunately, the West has forgotten two horrendous incidents, carried out by the Jews in 19th-century Europe - in Paris and London, to be precise. In 1883, about 150 French children were murdered in a horrible way in the suburbs of Paris, before the Jewish Passover holiday. Later research showed that the Jews had killed them and taken their blood. ... A similar incident took place in London, when many English children were killed by Jewish rabbis. ..." 

Dr. Hanizadeh works for the Tehran Times and (as the author of a book entitled The History of the Jews) is considered in Iran to be an authority on Jews and Judaism. 


I apologize for ending this holiday summary with so somber a note, but given the situation, I felt it important to raise the issue.  That said, Passover is a joyous time of celebration. Happy Passover!
As always, if you would like to share your thoughts, please do share them with me.

Want to Learn More?

Jewish-Christian Relations Tripod, "Blood Libel -- A History of Groundless Anti-Semitic Fables," http://jcrelations.tripod.com/blood.html
Judaism 101, "Pesach: Passover": http://www.jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm

Ariela Pelaia, About.com, "Judaism":  http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/Jewish-Holiday-Passover-Pesach.htm

Torah.org, "Passover": http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/pesach/#

Clip Art Sources: